Superintendents respond: Decades-old desegregation orders still open for 4 area schools

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, July 1, 2023

Four area school districts are among the more than 30 still under open federal desegregation orders.

On June 1, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke visited Mississippi. While speaking at the Holmes County Circuit Court Complex, Clarke noted there are approximately 30 schools in the state that remain under federal desegregation orders. The Department of Justice is still working to provide black students with equal access to education programs, she said.

“In our ongoing efforts to fulfill the promise of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), we currently have 32 open cases with school districts here in Mississippi,” said Clarke. “And in each of those cases, we are working to ensure that these districts comply with desegregation orders from courts.”

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The four area districts are Brookhaven, Lincoln County, Lawrence County and Copiah County.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, desegregation plans and court orders are resolutions of past discrimination by districts determined by the Office of Civil Rights or by the courts. Some of the Mississippi cases have been open for decades.

Interim State Superintendent of Education Mike Kent said desegregation orders are unique to specific school districts. All negotiations and interactions occur at the local level, with no involvement from the MDE, according to Kent.

Since 2014, 29 additional cases in Mississippi have been closed by the DOJ.

Local district leaders say the yearly requirements are minimal, but the process of getting out of the orders is a long and expensive one.

Brookhaven Schools Superintendent Dr. Rod Henderson said the districts are required to report various pieces of data each year.

“We do have the opportunity to come from under this decree, which was my intention when I was appointed as superintendent,” Henderson said. “Unfortunately, COVID arrived, and my attention went towards dealing with the pandemic. I will revisit the plan of having the district removed from the case with our Board of Education very soon. I look forward to the opportunity to do so.”

Dr. David Martin, superintendent of Lincoln County Schools, said he believes the district could reach the desegregation legal status of unification.

“It’s just an extra report or two a year, so it’s not much paperwork,” Martin said. “It is a decades-old case matter that was back during the desegregation times, and it has not been anything we have felt the need to go through the process and expense of filing for unification. We feel confident that we could meet the criteria for unification status, but it is a lengthy and expensive process. Our four schools are all similar in makeup of students and staff.”

Lawrence County Superintendent Dr. John Daley said while he could not comment on specifics due to ongoing litigation, “The Lawrence County School District is working diligently with the Department of Justice to close our desegregation case.”