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Education: Justice Department raises questions about all-black schools

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The U.S. Department of Justice wants to know what the Georgetown County School District plans to do about two schools that only have black students enrolled. And it wants to know why more than three-quarters of all the students who received disciplinary suspensions last year were black.

The questions were posed by an attorney in the Civil Rights Division who is reviewing the district’s request to lift a desegregation order approved by a federal court in the 1970s. The district and the Justice Department entered into a consent decree in 1997 after the department said the district had violated provisions of the desegregation order.

The decree gives the Justice Department oversight of school construction, student and teacher assignment and educational opportunities. The district commissioned a $34,000 study of school attendance zones this year to show the Justice Department that the racial mix in county schools is the result of population trends rather than policy. Over half of the district’s 18 schools don’t have a racial balance within 10 percent of the population as a whole.

Browns Ferry and Plantersville elementary schools “are almost exclusively African American schools,” Thomas Falkinburg, an attorney in the Educational Opportunities Section, notes in his review of the district’s study. “The district should provide specific steps and a proposed timeline to address the demographics at these two schools.”

A review of district data shows that all the white students were allowed to transfer from Browns Ferry and Plantersville, Falkinburg said. He wants the district to come up with a plan to increase the number of white students at each school.

His review also looked at staff at the two schools. Although 80 percent of district employees are white, Browns Ferry has more black faculty than white faculty. That “skewed faculty representation” doesn’t comply with the court order, Falkinburg told the district.

He said the district also needs to come up with a plan to “actively recruit at the state’s historically black colleges and universities.”

Faculty, like students, are required to be within 10 percent of the racial mix of the county under the desegregation order.

District data shows that 77 percent of suspensions went to black students, although they only make up 46 percent of the district’s enrollment. Of the students recommended for expulsion, 70 percent were black.

“African-American students receive a disproportionate number of serious discipline referrals,” Falkinburg said.

He asked the district to outlines the steps it is taking to change that.

Falkinburg also pointed out that the program for academically gifted students is “disproportionally comprised of white students.” He wants more information about how the district picks students for the program.

The district was asked to reply to the Justice Department by Nov. 9.

Superintendent Randy Dozier said he is working with the district’s attorneys on a reply. He said he believes some of the data the Justice Department is using is wrong, particularly the staffing numbers.

“I feel we can answer the questions fully,” he said.

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