Residents push Tangipahoa School Board on desegregation

Holding signs saying “They just won’t do right,” members of Tangipahoa Parish’s black community gathered at the school system’s central office Tuesday to demand the School Board abandon its pursuit of a modified desegregation plan.

The School Board voted last month to seek court approval for a plan that would use magnet programs and school choice options — rather than new buildings and drastically different attendance zones, as the current court order requires — to desegregate the parish’s schools.

District officials have said they simply cannot afford the $48 million price tag of building the three new elementary schools required under the parish’s current, court-approved desegregation plan.

The plaintiffs’ attorney in the case filed a series of motions last week asking federal Judge Ivan Lemelle to force the board to abide by the desegregation plan he approved in 2010.

Former board member and pastor J.A. Richardson, who led a crowd of about 20 in a demonstration before the School Board meeting, said Tuesday night that the current board and system leadership “just won’t do right” for the parish’s children.

Paulette Walker said the parish has only one School Board and should have only one district, in which students are offered the same educational opportunities parishwide, rather than being bused from one city to another to take advantage of specialty programs like Montessori or International Baccalaureate.

“Students should report to the next grade level in their area and not skip over the whole parish looking for the school of their choice and of their color,” Walker said.

Osa Betts-Williams, a retired educator, said she was a youth in high school when the district’s desegregation case began in 1965. Now, she has a grandson who is a junior in college.

“How long should this have taken with a willing and compliant School Board and superintendent?” Williams asked. “Surely not 50 years.”

Board member Brett Duncan, who authored much of the modified plan, took exception with the allegations that the board is impeding desegregation.

“For anyone to say that we have not done a tremendous amount of work to try to improve educational quality is offensive to every single educator that has been doing all that hard work,” Duncan said.

Duncan referred specifically to Hammond Eastside Elementary Magnet, a majority-black school that was recognized Tuesday night for being authorized as an International Baccalaureate World School in the Primary Years Programme.

Addressing the school’s educators in attendance, Duncan said, “I’m sorry you guys had to sit through that nonsense. … I see what you’re doing, and I’m sorry there are people out there that don’t.”

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.