Originally created 06/05/99

Schools case may near end



Construction projects in Richmond County are slowly pulling the school system closer to ending a 27-year-old desegregation court order.

Ben Allen, attorney for the plaintiffs who filed a discrimination suit in 1964 that led to the 1972 court order, and school board attorney Pete Fletcher will meet in two weeks to discuss a report that will update court officials on progress of the suit.

They will present the U.S. District Court with redrawn school zones for the new Cross Creek High School and update the court on progress of other construction projects -- one of the criteria for closing the lawsuit.

"The construction projects are critical," Mr. Allen said. "We've said all along that the bond issue would make a dent in the lawsuit."

Through massive busing and other requirements, the U.S. District Court in 1972 forced the school board to integrate schools.

The school system is still two conditions short of being released from the court order -- it lacks equally-improved school buildings and a racially-balanced noncertified staff, which includes bus drivers, clerks, nurses and teacher's aides.

A $115 million voter-approved tax is being used to improve county schools. Richmond County school officials have spent $66.1 million of the money and have bid 33 of the 47 planned projects.

When the 1964 lawsuit -- Acree et al vs. County Board of Education of Richmond County -- was filed, the school system was majority white and operated under a dual system for blacks and whites.

The 1972 ruling said six conditions had to be met before the board could be released from the court-supervised order.

It has since met four of those conditions:

Hired a racially-balanced certified staff -- teachers and administrators -- which is led by the county's first black superintendent as well as a racially-balanced school board.

Provided equal transportation to all schools and made sure the time and distance to and from schools are reasonably equal.

Provided the same types of extracurricular opportunities and curriculum to all students.

Neutrally assigned students based on residence.

Today the system is 67 percent black. Six of nine high schools are majority-black; eight of 10 middle schools are majority-black and about 27 of the 37 elementary schools are majority-black.

Mr. Allen said it's tough to say whether the lawsuit is still needed.

"When you take a look at how far we've come, with teachers, principals, board members and construction, I would say we're moving in the right direction," Mr. Allen said.

Mr. Fletcher said he would have to get board members approval to petition the court for a total release or an incremental release -- based on conditions met -- from the lawsuit. But, he said the court can decide on what to do with the suit.



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