School Board Given More Time on Desegregation

     ALEXANDRIA, La. (CN) – A Louisiana school board will engage in a three-year plan with the federal government to complete its 1967 goal of desegregation, according to court documents filed last week.
     Avoyelles Parish School Board serves 5,400 students and has been operating under a continuing duty to desegregate its schools since 1967.
     In Louisiana, parishes are equivalent to counties in other states. Avoyelles Parish is in the center of the state, roughly two hours north of New Orleans.
     This case is one of several remaining in which desegregated – or unitary – status has never been reached, despite that it has technically been in litigation for over 50 years, according to court documents.
     About nine years ago, the government required the school board get to work with meeting the requirements to achieve unitary status.
     If the school board complies with federal regulations for the next three years and implements a series of federal directives, including adoption of a uniform admissions process and ensuring classes within schools are desegregated, it will be considered desegregated.
     In addition to those directives, the school board must also determine whether a magnet program can be established at a “racially identifiable African American elementary school,” and take steps to encourage white students to transfer to that school.
     Additionally, the board must revise discipline policies in schools to reduce racial disparities in the use of exclusionary discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions, among other directives.
     “What this Court has seen along the way is a hopeful transformation of a school board which was initially tentative, recalcitrant, and partially uninformed regarding the depth of its responsibilities in the desegregation area,” wrote Chief Judge Dee Drell of the Alexandria, Louisiana Federal Court.
     “That board has now matured and we have seen a remarkable effort within the board to get on with the work of providing the best for the children of Avoyelles Parish,” Drell continued.
     Drell thanked numerous school board and community members whose efforts have contributed to advancing desegregation in Avoyelles Parish schools.
     Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the federal Civil Rights Division praised the group effort involved in completing desegregation of schools in Avoyelles Parish in a statement.
     “The Avoyelles Parish School Board’s unanimous vote to approve the consent order reflects our shared goal of securing equal educational opportunities for all students,” Gupta said. “We are confident that this agreement will bring meaningful progress, and we look forward to working closely with the School Board over the next three years to bring this case to a successful close.”
     “The Court’s part from here forward will be simply to be sure that progress made so far continues and to require that the commitments made are fulfilled. We will watch, now hopefully from the sidelines, to see that THIS School Board does not forget the children in the name of personal politics. Hopefully, they have learnt that, together, they can do great work. For every child who is successfully educated in Avoyelles Parish constitutes hope for the future. For this board and its new superintendent, Blaine Dauzat, now to move forward with this goal in mind will help to create an atmosphere of success and prosperity perhaps beyond their wildest dreams!” Drell said. (Emphasis in original.)

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