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DayeTime: Desegregated at last

For all intents and purposes, Avoyelles Parish has been as desegregated as it could be for the past 30 years. For some reason, it’s taken until now for the powers that be to agree with that statement.

When U.S. District Judge Nauman Scott dismantled the parish’s extensive system of small community schools -- closing some outright and reducing some to elementary or middle schools -- the deed was done.

For 30 years the public school system remained under the scrutiny -- some say control -- of the federal court and U.S. Justice Department.

The School Board has had issues to overcome to maintain a “desegregated” school system.

Students of all races who lived within a school attendance zone went to that assigned school, unless their parents enrolled them in a non-public school, charter school or home schooled them.

Those last three options all contribute to the racial ratio issues in some of our public schools.

While there are still predominantly one-race schools in the parish, it is due to the number of students within those attendance zones who choose to attend the public school they are zoned to attend. It is not by some devious design of the elected School Board.

It should be noted that the parish’s population is about 65 percent white, 30 percent black and 5 percent other. The overall racial ratio in the public school system is close to 50-50.

As Avoyelles Parish prepares to enter the next chapter in its public education history, the question should not be whether the schools will become “re-segregated,” but whether the students of any and all colors who attend those schools have equal access to the same quality of education as the students in any of its other schools.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that politics -- not race -- is the bogeyman in the closet of the Avoyelles School District.

It would be very tempting for a majority of board members to forge an alliance to take care of the high school and elementary schools serving most of their constituents.

Lest we forget, the School Board members are politicians and hold an elected office.

While I’m out on that limb, I will go ahead and say I don’t believe we’ll see five or six white board members conspire to shift an inordinate amount of district resources away from a few predominantly black schools to benefit predominantly white schools.

That would be stupid.

While I have had some disagreements with a few of the board members in the past, I definitely don’t think they’re stupid.

Since I have a pretty good view from this limb, I’ll go one step further and say it doesn’t even matter whether a school is all black or all white or somewhere in between.

Teach the kids who are in the classroom, maintain discipline, provide the necessary resources to do the job and don’t worry about the color of the students being taught.

As I look back on my journalistic career in this area, there are three desegregation cases that occupied a good portion of my attention.

Rapides Parish in 1980, with the Buckeye 3 and the confrontation between federal judge Scott and state judge Richard Lee, Clyde Holloway and his Forest Hill “Squatters’ School,” 6th grade centers and a complicated and convoluted cross-parish busing order.

Natchitoches Parish in 1981, with school closings, the opening of several private academies and more busing.

Avoyelles Parish in 1988, the heart-rending closure and “decapitation” of so many community schools.

Rapides has been removed from federal court supervision. Natchitoches is in a three-year “look back” period that ends in 2020. Avoyelles, possibly by the time this is printed or soon thereafter, will be “free at last, free at last.”

It can be argued that consolidation of this parish’s public high schools was needed because the parish could not afford to provide the courses, programs and resources necessary for the students at the very small high schools to compete in a modern society once they graduated.

But just think of what could have been done had money been no obstacle. Science classes of 8-10 students. Literature and world history classes with quality one-on-one instruction.

Think of the young minds that would have flourished in that kind of academic environment.

But money is an obstacle in this parish and the No. 1 purpose of a public school is to prepare its students for life after high school -- college, trade school, work and family.

I agree with former Simmesport High Principal Kirk Guidry that the 1988 consolidation was a bit extreme. It did not have to reduce the number of high schools from 11 to three.

I have to also agree with those on the other side of that issue: something had to be done, the School Board did not have the will or the “want to” to do what needed to be done, so others had to step up to do what needed to be done.

In this new era of education, will we seek to return to a community school concept, an “every school is a magnet” system with open enrollment at all schools or just continue with the three zoned high schools, one (or more) charter high and six zoned elementary schools with the only difference being the board doesn’t need an “OK” from a federal judge before it undertakes a project or wants to try a new program in one of the schools?

At this point, I will not voice a preference as to how the “new” Avoyelles Parish School District will look. I know the board members will review all of the facts and factors available to them in determining the direction in which this parish, its schools and its future leaders will travel.

I don’t see why or how it took 30 years to get here, but I am glad the day has finally come and look forward to the journey ahead.

AVOYELLES JOURNAL
BUNKIE RECORD
MARKSVILLE WEEKLY

105 N Main St
Marksville, LA 71351
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