AMITE — In a turbulent special session that led to an end-of-meeting shouting match, the Tangipahoa Parish School Board on Thursday approved sending a modified plan of its federal desegregation order to a judge for review.
The new plan passed on a 7-2 vote, with board members Sandra Bailey-Simmons and Eric Dangerfield voting against.
The desegregation order stems from a lawsuit filed against the Tangipahoa Parish School Board in 1965.
The desegregation issue was never fully resolved and went dormant for years, but it was revived in 2007 after black community leaders raised questions about racial segregation in the parish’s schools.
U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle approved a desegregation order years ago, but some School Board members have pushed for a new plan to avoid spending more than $54 million on three new schools required by the current order.
The proposed modifications do not call for new schools.
The board’s modified plan would redraw the parish’s school districts to achieve a greater racial balance among all schools, which could move about 2,000 of the parish’s roughly 20,000 students to new schools.
Bailey-Simmons tried to make a comment about the plan before the final vote, but board President Chris Cohea cut her off, saying Bailey-Simmons’ time to speak had passed after the board voted 5-4 to end its lengthy debate.
The board already had voted on the plan and made a motion to adjourn the meeting, but Bailey-Simmons went ahead and voiced her concerns about students moving to new schools.
Bailey-Simmons said minority-to-majority transfers, which the parish already has in place, work well enough to desegregate the parish’s schools. She said she began having doubts about the new plan after hearing Loranger residents voice grievances about students possibly being moved.
“Those are not just numbers,” she said. “Those are human beings.”
Bailey-Simmons went on for more than eight minutes until she was interrupted by board member Brett Duncan, one of the lead proponents of the plan.
Duncan had made a motion early in the meeting to vote on the plan but to include adjustments to address two major concerns — Loranger residents’ worries about possible overcrowding at their schools, and Natalbany residents asking to keep their children at Natalbany schools.
The board approved that motion.
“All of those concessions — because you asked for them — all of those concessions were in this plan that you just voted against,” Duncan said.
Board member Rose Dominguez later began criticizing Bailey-Simmons. Dominguez said she didn’t want to move students from Ponchatoula-area schools — an expected effect of the new plan — but voted for the modified plan because the school system has to develop a new plan or face consequences.
“If we didn’t move anybody from Champ Cooper (Elementary in Ponchatoula) or anybody from Amite or anybody from Sumner, we would never meet the desegregation goals,” Dominguez said.
Duncan proposed moving 300 black students along M.C. Moore Road and Magazine Street in Hammond up Morris Road, which he said would address the Loranger and Natalbany issues.
Dangerfield objected to sending students from the Magazine Street area to Loranger, saying families who were paying taxes for magnet programs in Hammond would be moved away from magnet schools, and vice versa.
Dangerfield cautioned board members to take more time, and he eventually made a motion to table the measure. His motion failed on a 6-3 vote.
“I do want us to desegregate our schools, but I want our schools to be better,” Dangerfield said. “Not everybody’s concerns are being addressed.”
Board member Andy Anderson then moved to amend the plan to include “buffer zones,” where students in newly rezoned areas could attend either their original school or their new school in their new zone. His motion failed on a 5-4 vote.