Sixth-grade classes might be moved

Richmond County school board members showed support Saturday morning for a plan that would eliminate sixth-grade classes at Tubman Middle School, keeping the school's rising sixth-graders at their elementary school one more year.

Board members, meeting as part of a retreat at The Partridge Inn, said they liked the idea but first want Richmond County schools Superintendent Dana Bedden to meet May 6 with the public to discuss the idea and get parents' input.

Dr. Bedden said the change to have the middle school only for those in seventh and eighth grades starting next school year could help improve the atmosphere at Tubman, where gang involvement, bomb threats and assaults have caused problems.

"This change would decrease the population at Tubman, and a smaller population could make for a better climate," he said.

There would be no facility costs in the change, and sixth-grade teachers at Tubman would be reassigned to the four feeder schools -- Collins, Lamar, Milledge and Monte Santo elementary schools, Dr. Bedden said.

Also at Saturday's retreat, the school board unanimously agreed to further talks regarding a plan to lift a desegregation order implemented decades ago. Some board members said the order should be lifted now because they feel most of its goals have been met. Others, although approving the motion, said they questioned the benefits of removing the order.

The order called for six standards to be met in the areas of pupil assignment, transportation, faculty, extracurricular activities, facilities and classified employees.

All but two -- facilities and classified employees -- have been met, school board attorney Pete Fletcher said at Saturday's meeting.

School board member Jack Padgett said if the desegregation order was not lifted, the community would have questions.

"We've been under the order 36 years, so people will ask if we've done the job, why are we still under it? If not, why haven't we?" he asked.

School board member Marion Barnes said he was not certain lifting the order would be a move forward considering two goals had still not been met.

School board member Venus Cain agreed.

"It's the perception of racism that's hurting us, not the law," Mrs. Cain said.

School board member Jimmy Atkins said the Richmond County school system will be one step closer to equality by lifting the order.

"Why don't we be the board to break down that barrier?" he asked.

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.