County schools delay unitary status petition

January 31, 2009

Garthia Elena Burnett -

 

It will be at least another year before Lowndes County School District is free from the constant oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

 


LCSD Board of Education members Friday afternoon approved a consent order, outlining changes to be made over the next year before they submit another unitary status petition to U.S. District Court. 

 


The agreement stems from discussions with the Justice Department and private plaintiffs, who alleged unfair treatment of black students and inadequate facilities at West Lowndes in a lawsuit against LCSD. 

 


Among the items outlined is a drainage problem at the West Lowndes baseball field, a non-functioning entryway at West Lowndes High, the absence of policies and procedures for advanced classes at West Lowndes and continued complaints of harassment and discrimination at New Hope and Caledonia schools. 

 


During the Friday meeting, the board adopted an updated harassment policy and advanced classes policy. 

 


"These are things the district was already doing, but it wasn''t in writing," Holmes Adams explained, co-counsel, along with Board Attorney Jeff Smith, for LCSD in their case for unitary status. 

 


Among other amendments, board members added grade-appropriate discussions on racial and cultural sensitivity to the harassment and discrimination policy already in place. 

 


The advanced classes policy calls for advanced placement classes to be offered at West Lowndes middle and high school. 

 


The district also has agreed to hire a consultant from Mississippi State University to oversee work at the West Lowndes baseball field, to ensure it is equivalent to the fields at New Hope and Caledonia by the 2010 baseball season. West Lowndes High''s entryway also is slated to be corrected. 

 


Though the district has been working to overcome the bounds of its 1970 desegregation order, LCSD Board President Dr. Robert Buckley said the consent order provides a good guideline for achieving unitary status. 

 


"It''s not discouraging," Buckley said. "It''s a guideline. We have a target. ... There are always ways to improve, and this consent order gives us ways to improve." 

 


Upon completion of the projects outlines in the order, Buckley said the district will have "lived up to (its) end of the agreement," and he expects to attain unitary status. 

 


"The consent order makes it easier because now it says ''This is what you must do,''" Buckley added. 

 


Board member Jacqueline Gray, whose husband, Will Gray is among the plaintiffs who sued LCSD for discriminatory practices, was not present at the Friday meeting. 

 


The consent order has been signed off on by Adams, Smith, Amy Berman, attorney for the Justice Department, and Michael Adelman, attorney for the plaintiffs. U.S. District Mike Mills, who is presiding over the case, has yet to sign the agreement. 

 


LCSD in August 2008 petitioned the court for unitary status but in negotiations with the DOJ and plaintiffs withdrew its petition in October. 

 


In August 2007, Columbus Municipal School District became one of the only school districts in recent years to gain unitary status, releasing it from a 1970 desegregation order.