School Board, residents discuss desegregation plan

Tangipahoa Parish School Board members laid out their proposals Monday for a modified plan for the parish’s decades-old federal desegregation order, while educators and parents voiced their concerns about its effects.

A crowd of about 30 people attended a public meeting at Ponchatoula High School. Most of the attendees were white.

The board’s modified plan would redraw the parish’s school districts to achieve a greater racial balance at all schools, said board member Brett Duncan, a lead proponent of the plan.

Duncan said the plan also would expand school options by reconfiguring grade structures at schools across the parish and maintaining the parish’s magnet and accelerated programs.

The School Board entered into a revised federal desegregation plan in recent years but has since proposed changes to it.

Duncan said the school system hopes to escape oversight from the federal court system and Nelson Taylor, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the case.

“We have to go to him (Taylor) on every single issue you can imagine,” Duncan said.

The board also is trying to modify the plan to avoid spending more than $54 million on three new schools required by the plan, Duncan said.

The proposed modifications do not call for new schools.

“All we can say is that it’s a legally sound plan,” Duncan said. “It’s better in every which way you can imagine.”

Board member Rose Dominguez said about 2,000 of the parish’s roughly 20,000 students likely will have to switch schools as part of the new plan.

A number of teachers and residents questioned why students would have to move to different schools as part of the plan.

Ginger Brown, a teacher at Champ Cooper Elementary, said her school is expected to lose more than 200 students under the plan. She said families living in Champ Cooper’s district also will lose out on options under the new plan.

“Champ Cooper ... is still the stepchild,” Brown said. “We have no choices.”

Duncan said the school system will not involuntarily remove students attending high school if and when the plan is implemented. He said some families in Ponchatoula will benefit from the plan because they will have a choice, based on the new districts, to either stay in Ponchatoula or apply to go to nearby Hammond schools.

The federal order stems from a desegregation lawsuit filed against the Tangipahoa Parish School Board in 1965.

The issue went dormant for years but was revived in 2007 after black community leaders raised questions about what they called a “continuation of racially segregated schools,” among other issues, according to court records.