City school board wants courts out, says it can be trusted to act without racial bias

If the system is declared “unitary,” the black community will give up its “big stick” to insure against racial disparities by future boards. Is the district ready? Can Brent Vidrine be trusted to treat Blacks fairly without the court looking over his shoulder?

   Can the Monroe City School Board be counted on to act fairly, without racial bias, in the administration of the school district? The School system says yes and is once again asking a federal judge to release it from Federal oversight.

  In 1964 Jimmy Andrews, a black student who was denied entry into Neville High School, filed suit against the school board, claiming that it operates a dual school system that offers racially identifiable differences in school funding, curriculums, personnel and administrative decisions.

   Fifty-three years later Andrews’ suit still has not been resolved. Attorneys for and against have died, school board members have changed, scores of redistricting, student shuffles, busing plans have been used, but the suit still remains active.

   Last week U.S. District Judge Robbie James gave the Monroe City School Board permission to ask once again to be declared “Unitary.”

   Unitary means that decisions in the school district are made without racial considerations and the district can be trusted to act fairly without Federal Oversight.  Once the Justice Departments and the courts step out, the only recourse the Black Community has if the board resumes discriminatory action would be to file another lawsuit in Federal Court.

  The Justice Department has 21 days to file any opposition.

    Over the last 53 years, the board has tried a variety of school busing plans, a ninth-grade center and other programs, but still could not convince the court that it was safe to give the district the green light to operate without court supervision.

    Three years ago, Black members of the school district, led by Verbon Muhammad and Rodney McFarland told the courts that the district was not ready to be free of Federal Supervision. They said some changes to equalize schools, even as late as 2014 were only made because they were ordered by the courts.

    Since 2014 the district has been trying to show that it has satisfied concerns of the court. Those concerns involve elimination of intentional segregation in student and faculty assignments, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities.

    In 2015, hearings were held in Federal Court and Board members Brenda Shelling and McFarland told the court that the district still discriminates against Blacks and cannot be trusted to operate without court supervision.

    To satisfy the courts, Superintendent Brent Vidrine swapped assistant principals for principals at Carroll and Neville and made other changes. teacher assignments at Northside and Southside schools were adjusted by a formula that created a greater racial mix of the faculty at Northside and Southside Schools.

    Was this enough? When Vidrine ordered the principal changes, some of those moved reported that they were told that all of the changes were temporary until the district is released from Federal oversight, after that the District can do what it wants and the courts have nothing to say.

    That’s the fear that many Black leaders have about being declared “unitary;” it loses its “big stick” to protect against future racism.

    The Justice Department still sees signs the district is not ready. Just this year it complained that the district is taking no steps to draw white students to Carroll High School.

    The “magnet” to draw whites to Carroll is supposed to be a medical program that the school offers. Since it is only offered at Carroll, the theory is that whites who want to pursue medical careers would be drawn to enroll as students at Carroll.  However, Superintendent Vidrine devised a plan to allow whites to continue enrollment at Neville High, come to Carroll and take the Medical curriculum and then return to Neville for the remainder of the school day. They never actually enroll as Carroll High students.

    That type of trickery hints that the district is not sincere in its efforts to desegregate its schools, according to the Justice Department.

     In separate Oct. 9 filings, both the school board and Superintendent Brent Vidrine argued that the district has met all requirements. Vidrine’s legal counsel argues that the contested classes are either no longer taught at Neville or are taught at all three high schools as universal courses or to train sports team managers.

     As far as student assignments, the district still maintains dual racial assignments. All of its Northside schools are racially integrated. All of its Southside schools are nearly all Black. All Southside schools with one exception are listed by the State Department of Education as failing schools, while all Northside schools are rated non-failing.

    The board, even with a Black majority, has resisted all attempts to desegregate Southside schools. It’s possible for a Southside student to begin school in kindergarten at Roy Shelling, Sr. Elementary, move to Carroll Jr.High School and then graduate from Carroll High School without ever sitting in a classroom, playing on a team or interacting with students of another race. The same is true of the true of Wossman High, the overwhelming majority of its students have never had any interaction with students of another race

    Even board members themselves verbally attack each other and make racial overtones. One board member, Brenda Shelling, frequently makes racial slurs in public meetings. She once called white board members “Blue Eyed Devils” causing considerable divisions in the community. She never apologized for or retracted any of her slurs.