Amee Dixon, 10, will not be among the students returning to Sheperd Elementary School in upper Northwest Washington on Monday. Neither will her 8-year-old sister Drew. Both girls have been taken out of the city's public school system by their father, Arrington Dixon, chairman of the D.C. City Council.
Dixon and his wife Sharon insist that they are not discrediting the merits of the city'S long-troubled school system. It was a personal matter, they say. They simply wanted their children in an elementary school where foreign languages are taught.
"We're just in a very global community. Even local officials are getting involved in international kinds of things," said Dixon, the second highest elected official in District government.
"It doesn't mean that the public schools are not good, or bad," he said. "It says that Arrington Dixon is a father and a parent, and (just) because I am a public official, I can't relinguish tough decisions as a father.
So, after spending four years at Shepherd, considered one of the better city schools east of Rock Creek Park, the Dixon girls head west of the Park, to Sheridan School. There, as blacks, they will be in a minority of the school population, something that troubles Sharon Dixon a bit.
"We deliberately wanted our children to go to public schools," she said. "We both believe it was a good experience. It was healthy, it was broader, it better reflected life . . . The Ethnic mix (at Shepherd) is at least in keeping with the reality of the District of Columbia."
But, she added, "I don't think anyone has to be a visionary to sense that the world is becoming more international. In order to move in the world, one has to not only have the skills of a foreign language, but the respect for someone's else's culture that studying a foreign language brings.
"I don't think it's elitist at all," she said. "I'd be the first to tell you, it's a financial strain."
Problems with the D.C. public schools are not new. For years, young up-and-coming black couples saved pennies to give their children the advantage of a private or parochial school education. An effective informal network has provided private school financial aid for less affluent students, who some feared would die a slow educational death in the city's public schools.
Still, there is a special significance to the action of the Dixons and other middle class blacks who appear to be taking their children out of the city's schools at a growing rate these days.
Many of those taking their children out of the city's public schools are themselves children of the idealistic, rebellious and self-proclaimed revolutionary 60s. They are among those who denounced as "elitist" many of the ways of the black middle class that preceded them and vowed never to adopt those ways.
Now, faced with the prospect of raising children of their own and wanting to provide the best possible education, those blacks are now finding the situation a lot more complex than they imagined.
I know the feeling firsthand.
Earlier this year, a teacher at Beers Elementary School in the middle-income section of Southeast Washington flatly recommended that Sekou Coleman, my 7-year-old son, be taken out of the city's public schools for his own educational good.
My son was among those getting bored with waiting for others in the school, and no program for above-average or gifted children seemed likely soon, I was told. The teacher said Sekou was in an educational environment that could only bring out the worst in him. If you can afford it, why let his life go down the drain?, I was asked.
There are at least three reasons why I've never been into private schools. For one, I went to public schools from kindergarten through college and had considered private schools a place where middle class or would-be middle class black folks sent their kids to more or less learn how to act white.
I also believed, as we had often said during my days as a black student activist, that "Harvard University has ruined more black people than bad whiskey."
And, I felt a certain commitment to living in the city and not abandoning the schools which offered the only educational opportunity for most black people. What better place to do that than in Washington -- Chocolate City -- where the population is 70 percent black.
So when we sent Sekou to Beers, I tacked a red-and-white bumper sticker on the rear of my car. It read, "A D.C. Public School -- Try It, You'll Like It." (No one else in our neighborhood, which included many high-ranking city employes, had similar bumper stickers. Apparently, they knew something I didn't).
And, I delighted at the look of surprise in some people's eyes when they noted that this black reporter for The Washington Post not only lived in the city, but had a son in public schools as well.
After two years at Beers -- one of the better schools in the city and one of the best in black Washington -- there were inevitable tell-tale signs, despite the fact that our son had very good teachers.
There were no foreign languages to be taught at this early, pliable age. So much for our son learning Spanish or French.
A promised program to help gifted children, as test scores suggested our son was, was continually shoved on the back burner.
School administration officials banned him from competing in a mile race on grounds that he was too young to go the distance -- less than two weeks after he had run 5 1/2 miles one Sunday morning and several days after his physical education teacher had already begun training him, among others, for the race.
Then there was this book.
My wife and I thought "the Negro" had died at least a rhetorical death in the first battles of the black power movement 13 years ago. To our surpise, we found "the Negro" alive and well in one of the books in our son's classroom in 1979. "The Negroes came as slaves," he once wrote, in a sentence copied from one of his books.
On Monday, Sekou will be back at Beers. But before the end of this school year, we, like the Dixons, will have a very tough decision to make.