Attorney to monitor race issue in Richmond schools

By the end of this month, Augusta attorney Ben Allen says, he'll start visiting Richmond County schools as part of efforts to resolve a federal desegregation order the school system has operated under since 1964.

"I want to visit every school over this year. That's my goal," said Allen, the lawyer representing the original plaintiff. "If I get a chance to talk to someone, I'll talk to someone. It's really just (getting) a general overview of the school."

In December, the desegregation order came up in a county school board retreat, where board members were told a settlement might be reached in the next year.

Allen told the board he planned to work with board attorney Pete Fletcher and other school officials to address any lingering issues.

Officials have said several steps, including infrastructure improvements, have been taken to address the order in Richmond County. But the board has agreed that more work is needed, with some saying certain schools are still referred to as white or black schools.

"You really want to get to the place that it's not referred to as a black or white school, and maybe we can't get out of that," Allen said this week.

He said he has been researching to see how other areas have settled desegregation orders, and he's in the process of having an expert come in to address Richmond County's situation.

"Hopefully, once we get the education expert in place and the visits completed, we'll be at a point where we can talk about some resolution," he said. "I don't think we can say specifically when it will be completed, but we're hoping we can move and know exactly where we are by the end of this year."

Rules to refresh civil rights in schools

SELMA, Ala. --- Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday the federal government will become more vigilant to make sure students have equal access and opportunity to everything ranging from college prep classes to science and engineering programs.

"We are going to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement," Duncan said.

He said the department also will issue a series of guidelines to public schools and colleges addressing fairness and equity issues.

"The truth is that, in the last decade, the office for civil rights has not been as vigilant as it should be. That is about to change," he said.

-- Associated Press

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