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Fate of 1972 desegregation order for Richmond County schools to be decided

Sunday, June 9, 2013 12:19 AM
Last updated 2:21 AM
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With a stroke of his gavel, U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. could put an end to a chapter that has defined the Richmond County school system for almost 50 years.

U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. will rule on whether enough progress has been made to lift a 1972 desegregation order in Richmond County schools.  FILE/STAFF
FILE/STAFF
U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. will rule on whether enough progress has been made to lift a 1972 desegregation order in Richmond County schools.

On June 17, both sides of a 1964 lawsuit that demanded integration of the education system will present evidence to determine whether enough progress has been made to lift a 1972 desegregation order that resulted from the case.

The question is whether the community is ready for the possibility of functioning without the oversight, which monitors everything from hiring practices to bus routes.

Some school board members say the order is a mark on Augusta’s image, discouraging industry from moving in and misleading outsiders about progress made.

Augusta, however, still wrangles with racial tensions in politics and culture, and some are nervous that without the court order, the schools could slip back into the dark days of segregation.

“In Augusta, people deal too much in color,” board member Barbara Pulliam said. “The trust isn’t there. Both sides see everything in white and black. A white judge, a black judge. A white sheriff, a black sheriff. It’s like living in the ’60s. So I don’t think either side is ready to be without it.”

Pulliam said progress has been made in equality of facilities and transportation and in zoning maps that balance schools racially, but other areas are lacking. There are also people who are satisfied with the racial equality in the schools but see the order as a safeguard to prevent backtracking, she said.

Out of the 109 Georgia school districts that came under desegregation orders decades ago, 75 remain under court order either because they have not met requirements or have not sought relief, according to a 2007 study commissioned by the Georgia Ad­vi­sory Com­mittee to the U.S. Com­mission on Civil Rights.

The committee’s study, the most recent data available, found that when districts were awarded unitary status, having orders lifted because they achieved desegregation, it did not necessarily result in resegregation. When findings showed patterns of resegregation, it seemed to have more to do with the size of the district or proportion of minority children enrolled.

After Butts County achieved unitary status in 2005, Board of Education Chair­man Earnest Battle said little changed. Many residents and school employees didn’t realize the district had been under such an order.

“We saw it as something to get off the policy books,” said Bat­tle, who has served on the board for 28 years. “We’ve been doing great since. In fact, we’ve gotten a few more minority administrators” in the system, which has a 63 percent white and 31 percent black student population.

Roy Nichols, who served as superintendent of Troup County from 1999 to 2004, said there was a group nervous about the school system shaking its desegregation order in 2003, but feelings calmed with public meetings and explanations.

THE DESEGREGATION ORDER puts burdensome requirements on school districts, such as having to report racial balance information and other evidence to the Office of Civil Rights each year, which is one reason Nichols said Troup County felt ready to end the order.

Nichols said that since the oversight ended, the school district still monitors bus routes, school populations and other factors to make sure equality stands as demographics shift in neighborhoods.

“Without the court oversight, there’s the possibility of drift, but we tried to be careful about that,” Nichols said. “There’s real strength in diversity, and we wanted kids to grow up in a diverse environment so we didn’t want to resegregate, and there hasn’t been a problem with that.”

However, Nichols said there were benefits to being under the order. Troup County used to be able to use race when selecting students to attend magnet schools to create a balanced population. When the orders are lifted, schools are not permitted to use race as a factor of admittance. Administrators had to rely on other factors to achieve a fair racial balance, such as socioeconomic status, but because poverty falls along racial lines in Troup County, they had to look to other ways.

“We finally just decided what we had to do was just have faith in the randomness of things and if you’ve got 50 percent of your population that’s African-American, that if you draw out 100 names that 50 of them would be African-American,” he said. The 13,000-student district is almost equally split by whites and blacks.

PETE FLETCHER, THE Rich­mond County school board’s attorney, and Benjamin Allen, who represents the plaintiffs, will present evidence of why the Augusta order should remain or else it will be lifted, according to Bowen’s order.

The courts look at six factors established through a landmark 1968 case when determining whether a system is desegregated: student assignment, faculty assignment, staff assignment, transportation, extracurricular activities and facilities.

With Richmond County’s demographics having shifted so drastically since the order was established in 1972, school board member Alex Howard said he sees little possibility to backtrack.

The board has five white and five black members, and the past three superintendents have been black men. Millions of dollars have been funneled into renovating and replacing schools across the county, and the district has shifted from majority white to 73 percent black students.

However, as Pulliam pointed out, inequity still exits in some areas. Non­certified positions, such as janitors and nutrition specialists, are made up of 80 percent black workers and 19 percent white while the county’s population has 54 percent black and 39 percent white residents. Teachers are split more evenly with 51 percent black and 47 percent white, according to data provided by the school system.

Howard said while work is left to be done, the progress made in 50 years cannot be ignored and that removing the order will only help in healing racial wounds.

“Back then, they should have put the order down because things were not equal, but the school system has dramatically changed,” Howard said. “A lot of people put a lot of hard work in the last 30, 40 years and that should be recognized.”

DESEGREGATION IN THE SCHOOLS

1954: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal” public schools were unconstitutional, opening doors for integration to begin. Fierce opposition led state leaders to stall and at times ignore the process. Before the 1959 gubernatorial election, Georgia Gov. Ernest Vandiver ran on the campaign slogan “No, not one,” meaning not one classroom would be integrated during his administration.

1964: Lead plaintiff Robert Acree files legal action against the Richmond County Board of Education with about 15 other black community members to force integration.

1968: A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County defined areas of school operation that districts must change to reflect true desegregation in order to achieve “unitary status.” The ruling expedited change, and the percentage of Southern black students attending integrated schools jumped from 32 percent in 1969 to 79 percent in 1971.

1972: The Richmond County school board was ordered to desegregate the schools using a plan to change busing and zoning methods.

2013: U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. orders both sides of the lawsuit to appear in court and show cause why the desegregation order should not be lifted.

– From staff reports

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seenitB4
97407
Points
seenitB4 06/09/13 - 07:05 am
4
0
And the beat goes on..

The dang gov needs to get out of the race business......never--ever have so many messed up so much......now the lop sided color problem would have to FIRE blacks from jobs to make the quota equal....& Atlanta is trying to figure out how to balance the work force---since 85% in gov jobs are African Americans....duh duh duh....what other "great" ideas can they force on the public!!!

rmwhitley
5547
Points
rmwhitley 06/09/13 - 09:05 am
0
0
The gubmint
Unpublished

will never get out of the race business. The naacp is one of it's biggest supporters and financial recipients.

Riverman1
93637
Points
Riverman1 06/09/13 - 09:12 am
3
1
There are going to be so few

There are going to be so few white public school students in Richmond County before long, you'll have to make them go to one school half the day and to another the other half in order to have integrated schools.

JRC2024
10420
Points
JRC2024 06/09/13 - 09:25 am
1
1
I would work several jobs to

I would work several jobs to send my child to a private school where none of this nonsense would have to be taken into account.

southern2
7789
Points
southern2 06/09/13 - 10:24 am
3
0
What a disaster the 64 ruling

What a disaster the 64 lawsuit has been for Richmond County. It not only destroyed our public school system but practically every one across the south. Any criticism of this aspect of our cultural demise is deemed as racist with a capital R. Way past time to face the truth.

Riverman1
93637
Points
Riverman1 06/09/13 - 10:24 am
4
0
Southern2, I don't know about

Southern2, I don't know about that. In the South, it created some great private schools.

seenitB4
97407
Points
seenitB4 06/09/13 - 10:36 am
2
0
Heh Don't give them ideas!!

you'll have to make them go to one school half the day and to another the other half in order to have integrated schools.

Some will probably scratch heir head & say "Dang--can we do that."

Sweet son
11632
Points
Sweet son 06/09/13 - 12:34 pm
0
2
Right on Riverman!

I didn't work extra jobs as JRC2024 suggested but my wife and I sacrificed and sent our daughter to a local private school. She is defending her dissertation next week and I am sure that if she had attended RC government schools it would not be happening. Thanks to all who sacrificed to make private schools available!

Sweet son
11632
Points
Sweet son 06/09/13 - 12:36 pm
0
0
Oh, the other thing!

Why is this even an issue? Wonder how much money will be spent before the judge drops the gavel on this ancient relic?

JRC2024
10420
Points
JRC2024 06/09/13 - 04:08 pm
1
0
The ratio has changed so why

The ratio has changed so why has this been hanging over Richmond County schools so long. It is surely not needed now.

Truth Matters
8084
Points
Truth Matters 06/09/13 - 04:23 pm
1
0
Private schools v public

@Sweet Son
Your daughter is to be congratulated for her accomplishments and likewise you and your spouse for instilling good work ethics and for supporting her (emotional, academic and financial support) to get to this level. However, it is absolutely without merit to imply that students attending public schools are not equipped to complete doctoral studies. I know many who have done so. Some went to school with me and the teachers never gave them a snowball chance in Hades of rising to that level.

Let's be careful with the generalizations on matters of such importance. I know of many great private schools; I have also been in some that I would not let any child of mine attend. I would not use that to indict all of them as you did of the public schools.

If any parents of public school students are reading Sweet Son's comments, tell your son/daughter the same thing he perhaps told his daughter: You can achieve great things if you are willing to work hard.

Sweet son
11632
Points
Sweet son 06/09/13 - 05:41 pm
1
0
Truth Matters: Thanks for the Insight!

I appreciate it! I am an open minded person and know that there are many good public schools. And yes, Mom and I did provide support in all three areas (emotional, academic and financial). Daughter is in mid 20's and I can still remember vividly working with her on electromagnet science fair projects. LOL! And yes again, we did tell her that she could achieve great things if she worked hard!

Sweet son

Fayette
93
Points
Fayette 06/09/13 - 06:15 pm
0
0
Judge Bowen

In my 50 years as a local lawyer, I have observed Judge Bowen. Without a doubt, he is a credit to the Judiciary. I am confident that he will issue a well thought out decision after listening to the presentation of the lawyers.

itsanotherday1
48306
Points
itsanotherday1 06/09/13 - 06:38 pm
0
1
The voting rights act should

The voting rights act should be the next relic to hit the trash heap. It was necessary and just at the time, but that time has long passed.

countyman
21630
Points
countyman 06/09/13 - 07:26 pm
1
3
SweetSon. Davidson(best

SweetSon. Davidson(best school in Georgia most years) was a RC government funded school..

Gage Creed
19399
Points
Gage Creed 06/09/13 - 08:23 pm
3
0
And Davidson was a magnet

And Davidson is a magnet school that draws the best of the best... it's light years from the average public school.

GnipGnop
12744
Points
GnipGnop 06/09/13 - 09:01 pm
2
0
Magnet schools

are not typical schools based on neighborhood population. Their students must meet certain criteria in order to gain admission. Please stop calling them public schools. They are taxpayer funded private public schools.

Darby
29249
Points
Darby 06/09/13 - 10:45 pm
2
2
"I would work several jobs to send

my child to a private school"

.
I know more than one educated black parent who is or has done exactly that.

It's not about race, it's about conservatism and wanting the best for your children.

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