Friday, August 29, 2014

Town Hall Meeting with Justice Department Officials Draws a Crowd

Nearly 100 citizens attended a town hall meeting on Wednesday night (August 27) with officials from the U.S. Justice Department. Attorneys Victoria McNamee and David Hutch were in Winston County as part of a review of the Louisville Municipal School District’s Compliance with the Desegregation Order of 1969.

McNamee was specific to point out that the Justice Department
visit was not due to a filed complaint or a specific issue but was part of a normal compliance review of the District. The review had actually been scheduled in 2013 but funding issues had delayed it until the current time.

School Districts that achieve “Unitary Status” can file to be removed from the desegregation order jurisdiction. To fully achieve this status, districts must meet all of 5 criteria that include:

  • Student Assignment 
  • Faculty & Staff Integration 
  • Comparable Facilities 
  • Transportation and Bussing Routes 
  • Extracurricular & Honor Class availability across all schools 

In 2008, LMSD filed for removal from the desegregation order but the case was never completed. McNamee noted that many counties were still under the Order’s jurisdiction and that a compliance review such as this one, involved holding community meeting(s), meeting with district administration, touring schools and evaluating all aspects.

Members of the audience began asking questions and stating issues that they felt were a problem within LMSD and the subject of school consolidation and school assignment became a major issue.

Consolidation is not a part of the issue under review and is not subject to direct action by the Justice Department. Consolidation of some of the schools in the District has been a major topic and source of contention for a number of years. Any decision to consolidate would be at the discretion of the LMSD Board of Trustees.

Topics and issues raised included:

  • Transfer of students not only between schools in the District but also from outside the County and whether the District was following policy in all cases 
  • Concern about the ratio of white teachers to minority students
  •  Distributions of assets between schools 
  • Ratio of teachers to students across all schools 

Some members of the public also raised issues that were not related to the subject at hand or were not necessarily pertinent to the Justice Department’s review.

A concern about the “school to prison pipeline” perceived by some was expressed. McNamee urged the public to bring the discussion back to a race issue stating that “issues such as this may or may not be relevant here.”

Others expressed dissatisfaction with some public school teachers sending their own children to private school. McNamee noted that while this was not something that invokes confidence in the school system, it is a personal choice.

The Justice Department representatives will tour the schools and continue their examination over the next few days noting that there is no particular formula for achieving unitary status or an expectation of reaching a certain demographic status.

The results of the Justice Department findings will be communicated with LMSD.