January 11, 2010 10:13:00 AM
The case of a white administrator suing the Lowndes County School District for racial discrimination is scheduled to be heard by a jury in U.S. District Court, Feb. 8.
Charles Jackson of Starkville, assistant principal at West Lowndes High School since 1994, filed suit in U.S. District Court in July 2008, accusing LCSD of racist practices. The district, his suit said, intentionally maintains white principals at its predominately white schools -- New Hope and Caledonia campuses -- and black principals at its predominately black schools -- West Lowndes campuses.
When Robert Smith''s bid for mayor in 2006 left the lead position at West Lowndes Middle School open on an interim basis, Jackson applied, the complaint said. Cynthia McMath, then the district''s assessment coordinator and a black woman, was appointed to the position. In its response, LCSD denies accepting applications for the interim post.
Jackson applied for the position when Smith won the mayoral race. McMath, who still holds the position, was tapped for the post permanently. While Jackson is a longtime administrator in Lowndes County, McMath has "little experience in administration," the lawsuit reads.
McMath, Jackson and other candidates were interviewed by committee members who rated their answers to questions on a scale of one to five. McMath''s scores were higher, and she was hired. In Jackson''s suit, however, he accuses the district of using questions that gave McMath an advantage.
Jackson, who in 2005 also applied for the principal job at West Lowndes Elementary, is suing for damages in an amount to be determined by a jury. Robert Sanders, a black man, was appointed principal of WLES in 2005. He is represented by Jim Waide of Tupelo. LCSD is represented by Silas W. McCharen of Jackson.
U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock is presiding over the case. A final pretrial hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
Aycock denied, in part, the defendant''s motion for summary judgment; the judge also dismissed a portion of the suit dealing with violation of a consent decree. A consent order was signed by LCSD in 2006 agreeing to make the district''s virtually all-black schools comparable to its predominantly white schools, in response to lawsuits filed by privates parties in 2002 and 2003.
The district was to make improvements to West Lowndes schools to make them comparable to the majority-white high schools. The district was to purchase land adjacent to the West Lowndes High School and build a baseball field, upgrade facilities at the high school, create band and football practice fields at the high school, remedy short comings at West Lowndes elementary and middle schools including upgrading classrooms, renovating an auditorium/gymnasium and removing sewage lagoons, implementing programs at West Lowndes Middle and High schools to foster advanced placement classes "on par with the array of course offerings at the majority white schools even if only requested by one child, and to cease using race-conscious policies in the selection of extracurricular activities such as class superlatives and homecoming courts."
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice opposed LCSD'' petition for unitary status, which would release it from its original 1970 desegregation order. On Feb. 3, 2009, another consent order was entered requiring the district to repair the baseball field and entrance at West Lowndes High, "develop and support an advanced instruction curriculum at the virtually-all-black middle school and high school, and adopt and implement a non-discrimination policy to systemically address continued community and parent concerns."
A Mississippi State University consultant continues to work with LCSD to correct drainage problems at the baseball field, which will continue to be monitored throughout the baseball season, said Jeff Smith, LCSD board attorney.
"The baseball field and entrance at West Lowndes High School had water standing in it," Smith explained, noting "policies and procedures to promote, supervise and recruit AP students and educate parents" have been implemented.
"The entryway of high school has been corrected," he added.
The district plans to resubmit its petition for unitary status once drainage is found to be sufficient at the West Lowndes High baseball field.