After 40 Years, Desegregation Decree Lifted - - Jackson, MS

Madison County 04/10/06

After 40 Years, Desegregation Decree Lifted

By Roslyn Anderson

For nearly 40 years Madison County schools have been under court ordered desegregation. That federal oversight has been removed and school district officials say they've proven there is no longer a need.

Madison County's nearly 11,000 majority-white student population is quite a contrast to the racial makeup in 1969 when court-ordered desegregation went into effect. Thirty-seven years ago Madison County's 4,500 students were 75% black, with black and white students required to attend separate schools.

U.S. District Judge Tom Lee removed the desegregation decree on Friday.

Madison County Schools superintendent Mike Kent says the school board will now be able to make decisions for the district without court approval. "This district remains committed to a quality education for all of its students," Kent said. "We have demonstrated that particularly over the past six years. We will continue our efforts in that regard."

Iin 1998, a $55 million school bond issue to build five new school was halted by the Justice Department that argued four of the five schools would be built in the predominantly white Madison-Ridgeland area.

It further stated that the new schools would do nothing to further desegregate historically black schools, resulting in long-term re-segregation.

While under the federal oversight the school board was required to eliminate racial identifiability of the schools based on racial composition of faculty and staff, develop a plan for a majority-to-minority transfer policy, ensure uniform course offering to all students, establish a magnet school at Velma Jackson High School and file periodic status reports with the courts.

In June of 2004 the school district filed a motion to remove itself from the desegregation order.

Calls to plaintiff attorney Susan Keys for comment on the decision have not been returned.

The plaintiffs have 30 days to appeal Judge Lee's decision. The U.S. Justice Department has 60 days to appeal.

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