Unitary status means blacks must trust Vidrine with our future; bad idea

   Do you believe that Brent Vidrine and his successors can always be trusted to be fair to Blacks in the Monroe City School System? The NAACP says “No” and we agree.

   It’s unthinkable that the four black members of the Monroe City School Board would allow their names to be attached to any request that would, in effect, give Superintendent Brent Vidrine our complete trust and confidence for the future of our children.

   The issue will be debated before a Federal Judge on January 9, 2017. For some strange reason, the Black members of the Board: Rodney McFarland, Brenda Shelling, B.J. Johnson and Daryll Berry, have decided to buck against every organization, institution and citizen group in the Black community and announce their complete faith in the Monroe City School District and its superintendent, Brent Vidrine, to always think about fair play and in the best interest of students when decisions are made, without thinking of race.

   Wasn’t it just two years ago that McFarland and Shelling were testifying in Federal court that the district could not be trusted to operate without federal oversight? Wasn’t it these same two board members who complained that the district has resisted attempts to integrate Carroll and Wossman High School by maintaining districts that require only Black students to be bussed to North Monroe, but no white students to be bussed South? Isn’t this the same school board that has a number of open racial discrimination suits that have been approved by the Federal EEOC office?

   Is this the same school board that only listened to the parents and administration of Excellence Academy after it was ordered to do so by a Federal Court? Is this the same board that refused to listen to the NAACP and the general community, requiring a federal judge to order it to receive community input? Is this the school board that supports its president as he publicly embarrasses citizens and intimidates them with the threat of security or police action?

   Does this board seriously believe that it can be trusted to always be fair? Can this board be trusted to rein in racist members who use racial slurs and insults publicly?
   What actions can any of the four Black board members name that would indicate that this board can be trusted to “always” act without racial thought? This is the same board that refused to condemn one of its own who called white board members “blue-eyed devils.” 

   The school board wants the federal courts to close the books on the 53-year-old court order that has forced the district to try to find a way to be equal. Responding to the court order the district has established racial quotas for white/black teachers in schools, tried a variety of school plans including 9th-grade centers and Magnet schools, and made adjustments to insure that courses taught in North Monroe schools are also taught in South Monroe schools. What’s important to note is that all of these changes over 53 years were ordered by the courts, the school district has never taken one single desegregation action in 53 years on its own initiative to make things fair. 

   Even with a Black majority, the district refuses to take steps to insure that all of its middle-class students don’t cluster into schools on one side of town leaving all of the struggling schools on the other. To be blunt, all of the districts failing schools are on the same side of the town, and all of its high achieving schools are on the other side. The board doesn’t have the courage to enforce total desegregation of the district.

   Anytime the subject of total desegregation is brought up the board members will say, “but if whites have to attend schools in South Monroe, they will leave the district.” Afraid of white flight, the board won’t make a move in this direction until ordered by the court.

   The word that is used is “Unitary.” It means the community thinks as one unit and is always seeking ways to be fair without a court order.

   How does that work? We recently saw an example given by the Parish School District. The district decided to build a new school in a predominately white neighborhood (Swartz). Because of the demographics, the new school would obviously be mostly white. The parish, which has “Unitary” status, eliminated the race issue by building a new school in a white neighborhood but insured that there would be a significant number of black students in the school. They topped it off by appointing a black principal to the new school in a neighborhood known historically as hostile to blacks.

     They made the gutsy move without a court order.

     Given the same situation, could the Monroe City Schools do the same type of thing, without a court order? For example, the district is getting ready to build a new Martin Luther King Middle School a half block from Wossman High and Minnie Ruffin Elementary. Can the board be trusted to insure that the school will not be all black? We doubt it. One reason we doubt it is because the board has totally ignored the residents of the community who think the idea of six schools within six blocks of each other is not logical and will pose flood problems for the neighborhood.

    If the board ignores residents WITH the court looking over its shoulder, what will happen if there is no court?

    Why is this a matter of trusting Brent Vidrine? Because state law entrusts the appointment of principals, faculty and other arrangements totally in the hands of the superintendent. That being said, the question must be addressed, “Has Vidrine shown that he always thinks of ways to show fair play to our people when he acts?” We think not.

   Need an example? The Carroll Magnet School was designed to a have a special medial program that would act as a magnet to attract whites to enroll as students at the school. In spite of a Federal desegregation order, Vidrine devised a way to sidestep the order and avoid sending whites to Carroll. He allowed white students at Neville to come to Carroll, take the medical classes, and then return to Neville to finish the school year without becoming actual students of Carroll High.

   His plan showed his willingness to avoid complete desegregation, even with the court looking over his shoulder. Just think what he would do once the federal court bows out.

   What happens if the court decides to keep its eye on the district? It means that any changes in attendance zones, faculty assignments or major changes must be fair or the court will step in and make it right. As long as the board exercises fair play the court could officially be in the background for the next 100 years and no one would ever know it because there would be no reason for it to act.

    President Roosevelt said it best, we should “Speak soft, but carry a big stick.” The court is the black community’s big stick. McFarland and the black school board majority want the community to give up its big stick. 

   Conversely, if the court steps out, in one year Vidrine could reverse principal assignments, faculty assignments and the board could undo school zones and a multiplicity of other protections put in place over the last 53 years. Remember this is the man who headed up a movement to charter Neville High School and take it out of the system control, and dropped it only when he became superintendent. He then went to work to destroy a black charter school that was doing exactly what he planned to do with Neville.

   White board members favor “Unitary” status because it guarantees the status quo and the possibility of a reversal of some practices that are troublesome. It’s the Black community that has the most to lose.

   That’s why nearly every black educator, parent and civic leader is opposed to “Unitary” status. 

   The black school board members, who can still vote to withdraw the board’s request before January 9th, are so out of touch with their constituents that it is ridiculous.

   They would be hard-pressed to find ten knowledgeable blacks who believe that we can put our complete trust in Brent Vidrine.

   If we are in error, let’s error on the safe side of our children, and ask the courts to keep looking over the district’s shoulder.
   The court has been our only protection, even with a predominately Black School Board..

   Our community should wholeheartedly oppose “Unitary Status” for the Monroe City Schools.