Desegregation plan rattles board

A Hammond group’s show of unity and support Tuesday night for the Tangipahoa Parish school system exposed a deepening rift among School Board members regarding possible modifications to the district’s desegregation plan.

About 30 Hammond parents and community leaders attended the board meeting wearing purple to show their unity in demanding that the board swiftly address the system’s problems and approve proposed changes to a court-ordered desegregation plan.

Board member Brett Duncan, who encouraged the demonstration through posts on his Facebook page and personal website Tuesday and wore a purple necktie to the meeting, has been pushing his board colleagues for months to present the modification proposal to the public and move forward with its adoption.

Proposed changes include clustering schools, creating regional attendance zones and increasing the number of magnet programs throughout the parish. The changes would negate the need to build three new schools, as required under the current plan, and would not require any new taxes, Duncan has said.

Duncan has presented the modification ideas at numerous community and civic group meetings during the past few months while board attorney Bob Hammonds worked to draft an official proposal.

“The public will have an opportunity to be heard before the board decides anything,” Hammonds said Tuesday before asking the board to enter an executive session to discuss the desegregation case. “But anything released otherwise is being done individually and not with the wishes or approval of the entire board.”

Hammonds said he anticipated the legal strategy session would last only 15 minutes, but 20 minutes later, only Duncan and frequent board allies Sandra Bailey-Simmons and Andy Anderson emerged.

Upon the return of the rest of the board three minutes later, board member Rose Dominguez moved, without opposition, to direct the board’s attorneys to request a status conference with U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle, who oversees the district’s 47-year-old desegregation case.

“It’s become ‘the Brett Duncan plan,’ even though we’ve all thrown in ideas,” Dominguez said. “But it’s not a finished product. It’s a draft, and we can’t vote on a draft.”

Dominguez said she was disappointed that some board members are being portrayed as being against modifying the current desegregation plan.

“We’re not turning anything down or criticizing it, and I don’t think it’s fair that we’re being criticized for that,” Dominguez said.