Some forty years after being ordered by the court to stop segregation practices, the Walthall County School District in rural Mississippi still routinely allows white students to transfer out of their district despite the fact that it radically shifts the racial make up of its schools.
And that’s not all.
Although assigning students to schools based on race is not permitted under the law, Walthall, like many school districts, has an open enrollment policy that allows families to apply for permission to attend schools outside their designated attendance area, or in another school district. Desegregation laws require school districts to cap open enrollment in order to maintain racial balance within their district. Walthall simply doesn’t do that.
In fact, the Walthall district allows administrators within its schools to segregate children by grouping mostly white students into their own classrooms resulting in grade level classes that were all black at every grade level.
Walthall has a long history of issues with school segregation and of ignoring federal orders to desegregate. The first court order came in 1970, but in the late 1980′s, federal authorities found that segregation was still on going. Though the school district made some changes in the 1990′s, according to the Department of Justice, segregation practices were not only still occurring, but also that the problem in Walthall was growing worse.
In 2009 Walthall and the federal government reached a tentative agreement that addressed some of the issues with open enrollment, and the practice of assigning students to classrooms based on race. But problems continued.
Recently U.S. District Court Judge Tom Lee ordered Walthall to limit out of district transfers significantly, and to employ software programs that would randomly assign students to classes rather than have school officials do it themselves.
Walthall officials are not publicly commenting. How could they? Racism is not defensible.
It’s not even all that uncommon. I taught in a middle school in Iowa where white students made up the bulk of all AP (advanced placement) classes, despite the fact there were equally as many black students who were qualified. I fought the counseling office on a routine basis to move qualified black students into my AP classes, but I was frequently stymied by the fact that these classes were overcrowded — usually with students who had been assigned to the AP sections because of parental pressure on the school, rather than their actual ability.
In the 21st century it is a mistake to believe that racism isn’t still a problem in our public school system. And Walthall is not the only place were prejudice still exists.
photo credit: studentsforhumanity by frerieke