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Teacher choice has benefited Brookhaven

A report by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting (MCIR), published by the Clarion Ledger and summarized in The Daily Leader this past week, points fingers and accusations at the Brookhaven School District for allowing policies that MCIR claim are contrary to federal desegregation laws established in 1970.

The report outlines an informal policy by the school system to allow both black and white parents to request specific teachers in the school system for their children. The report admits both black and white parents used the policy. Annual reports, according to MCIR, filed each year by the Brookhaven school system to the Justice Department show several all-black classrooms and some majority white classrooms at three of the district’s elementary and middle schools.

The conclusion of the MCIR report is that Brookhaven Public Schools are in violation of the 1970 federal desegregation order as have McComb and Walthall County Districts been found in blatant violation in the past.

As a parent of two graduates of the Brookhaven School system; a graduate of the school system myself who lived the initial implementation of the 1970 desegregation order and then later a newspaper reporter, editor and eventually the publisher who personally covered the school system; wrote both positive and negative opinion pieces about the school system; as well as having numerous reporters covering the schools for 32 years, I am puzzled by the report.

As long as I can remember, parents have been allowed to make teacher choices going back to the 1970s— unfortunately some teachers are better than others in chosen subjects. Sometimes the teacher requests were granted; sometimes they were not.

What makes me scratch my head is that in McComb as well as in Natchez black to white student ratios are around 90/10 black as well as similar overly unbalanced ratios in school districts across Southwest Mississippi. Here in Brookhaven the district’s ratio is something like 65/35 black. It seems to me that Brookhaven schools administrators and the community should be praised for their efforts not condemned! Maybe they are doing something right!

As the community knows many times over the years in my columns when I owned The Daily Leader I have touted Brookhaven and Lincoln County’s economic success and prowess being tied to one key ingredient — the quality and community unity around our schools. While other communities have lost their public schools, we have been able to hold on to ours. We have been able to hold on to ours because parents of both races worked together. Brookhaven as a community has benefited from that joint effort.

Even if, technically, Brookhaven has been in violation of the 1970 desegregation order, if that violation resulted in a more balanced racial ratio than so many other communities, is that not a good thing? Was that not the purpose of the 1970 federal desegregation order in the first place?

Bill Jacobs is former owner and publisher of The Daily Leader.