Parents Fight High School Merger in Louisiana

SHREVEPORT, La. (CN) – Parents of children at two historically all-black schools claim in court the Caddo Parish School Board’s plan to merge the two will leave some children with nowhere to go.

In a federal complaint filed Friday in Shreveport, Louisiana, the parents describe the two schools as “vestiges of past government-imposed racial segregation,” but nevertheless express dismay over what they claim was the school board’s abrupt decision to merge the two facilities.

According to the parents, the board claims the merger is needed to “‘right size’ the district and … generate funds for teacher pay raises.”

The truth, the parents claim, is the decision was “manifestly race-based.”

As recounted in the complaint, the Fair Park and Booker T. Washington high schools were the subject of a 1981 consent decree which said the schools needed to be integrated.

They never were. They were all-black schools in 1981 and continue to be today.

Booker T. Washington High School, named for the black educator who started the Tuskegee Institute in the Alabama, is located in the Allendale neighborhood of Shreveport, a section of town that is almost completely black.

The history of Booker T. Washington reflects the “separate but equal” ideology of the early 1950s, when it opened.

The lawsuit says on the day in opened in January 1950, “Black students were given a new school, but it was a school for black students, not all students.”

For years, it was considered a failing school, or “academically unacceptable,” the lawsuit says. It was removed from the failing list in 2013, but remains a “D” school, at risk of slipping back to an “F” rating.

Fair Park, located in the neighborhood of Queensborough, was once an all-white high school, but as the demographic of the neighborhood changed, it became mostly black over time, until it was almost exclusively black.

It also is a failing school, but current projections show it could come off the failing school list by the end of this academic year, if the high school is not closed and its students sent to Booker T. Washington, the lawsuit says.

Caddo Parish schools have never been considered integrated by the U.S. Department of Education, the parents say.

“The school board has made little effort to accomplish this purpose and seems content to wait until its hand has been forced and it has no alternative, and then merely to trim off a twig or two from the thriving, pernicious vine of racism,” the complaint says.

In 2013, the Louisiana Recovery School District got involved because Fair Park was so low performing, but the intention was to keep it from failing and had nothing to do with it having not been integrated, the lawsuit says.

Also, before any real progress could be made, the school district decided to close the school completely, and to transfer its students to Booker T. Washington, the parents say.

“The school board’s decision to merge the all-black student population of Fair Park with the all-black student population of BTW treats the students of these two schools differently from the students at other high schools in Caddo Parish on the basis of the students’ race,” the lawsuit says.

School board members knew their decision over which school to merge the other one into was framed in the context of race, the lawsuit says.

“Superintendent [Lamar] Goree posed the issue in terms of the survival of the existence of two high schools. The school board had to choose between continuing the existence of BTW or Fair Park. ‘Will we preserve the history of Caddo’s only all black historic high school or will we preserve the history of a high school that is 90 years old?’ Superintendent Goree asked the school board.”

Goree expressed confidence in the school board’s decision to consolidate the two schools in a prepared statement sent out last week. He said he looks forward “to a respectful dialogue and informed discussion about the issues at hand.”

The parents are also concerned about school-overcrowding.

Booker T. Washington already has 400 students, and the plaintiffs say it just is not equipped to accommodate an additional 700 students from Fair Park.

“Upon the merger of these two schools, the all-black student populations will be taught in a single school facility beyond capacity while students at white schools and integrated schools are being taught in schools functioning at only 75 percent to 85 percent capacity, the complaint says.

The parents say if any money is saved by the merger, it will be at the expense of the students, as there will not be enough room in the classrooms or enough space for each teacher to have its own class.

They are also concerned about violence between students of the two schools.

“The school board has also failed to consider that the merger will exacerbate a long-standing rivalry between the neighborhoods from which these two student populations are drawn.

“The source and history of the conflict are uncertain, but the feud is long-standing, dating back many decades. Recent events indicate the current generation of students are vested in this conflict. It has already resulted in physical conflict and violence on the BTW campus,” the complaint says.

According to the lawsuit, two weeks ago, a former student of Fair Park was attacked on the BTW campus. As a result, the principal of BTW canceled a school carnival minutes before it was to take place.

Defendant is Caddo Parish School Board.

Plaintiffs are Amanda Cooksey, Niesha Walpool, Wendy Watson, Leila Gregg, all on behalf of their minor children, and the Fair Park Alumni Association. They want to block the merger from taking place.

Booker T. Washington High School Principal Kristi Young, did not reply to an email asking for comment on the lawsuit and the alleged altercation between students of the two schools.

Caddo Parish School Board attorney Reggie Abrams also did not reply to an email for comment.

Allison Jones, of Downer, Jones, Marino & Wilhite in Shreveport, who filed the lawsuit also did not reply to a request for comment.

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