The Department of Justice (DOJ) has required that a rural county in Alabama must change the way it educates children, ruling that segregation had reared its ugly head.
The DOJ announced on Aug. 8 that it reached a settlement with the Pickens County Board of Education requiring the board to institute a series of educational reforms to eliminate racial segregation in the school system.
“Anytime that the federal system can help to eliminate racial discrimination in schools or anything else, we are all for that,” said Benard Fimelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the National Association of Advancement for Colored People (NAACP), in a telephone interview.
After an unsuccessful attempt to work with the school district on the matter, the DOJ filed a motion on May 2 asking the court to rule that the school district had violated the existing desegregation orders and federal law. The district was then ordered to implement a plan to eliminate the vestiges of the district’s former dual school system.
After conducting a district-wide capacity study and gathering the input of over 800 students, parents, and concerned citizens who attended a community meeting, the DOJ and the school district jointly requested that two schools be closed.
Students and faculty were to be reassigned, and improvements made to education and extracurricular activities at the remaining schools.
The Pickens County Board of Education has been under a court-ordered desegregation plan since June 12, 1970. The court ordered the district to dismantle the dual structure still in existence.
Separated by Tracks
Prior to 1969, a local law racially segregated the schools: the west side of the railroad tracks that ran through Cleveland, Ala., contained white schools, while schools on the east side were for black students. More than 40 years later, the disparity was unchanged.
“I was in school back in the ’60s and there was a tremendous issue of racial discrimination. During that time the elementary schools we were attending, kids were dropped off eight miles apart just because of the segregation,” said Fimelton.
He said racial disparities in education are not always intentional. “Schools are not necessarily influenced on purpose, but because of the resources that the schools receive. Many schools are still not receiving the appropriate resources because of the economics issue.
“A similar thing is happening in Madison County, Huntsville District, and they are being criticized for this,” Fimelton said. “The Department of Education has said their schools are not balanced out for people with racial makeup because of the economics.”
According to a DOJ statement, the settlement will require policies and programs to eliminate racial disparities for students within the schools’ curriculum activities, including student discipline, grade retention, graduation rates, and post-graduate scholarships. The schools have an obligation to recruit minority applicants for faculty and administrative positions.“The citizens of our state benefit when parties come together, as here, to ensure that all children, regardless of race, have equal access to the best possible educational opportunities,” said U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance of the Northern District of Alabama, in a press release.
In addition, Alabama will establish and operate an early learning center providing free educational services to 4-year-old preschoolers in Pickens County. The state will also provide substantial training and expertise to help the board fulfill its obligations