Chambers County and Department of Justice unveil new school desegregation plan

After announcing a series of school closings this month, Chambers County is closing in on a plan to desegregate its schools.

The U.S. Department of Justice, in conjunction with the school district and plaintiffs represented by the NAACP’s Legal Educational Defense Fund, submitted a proposal Thursday afternoon to consolidate several Chambers County schools and address discipline, course offerings and diversity of students and staff. The district says it will also collect community feedback as part of ongoing efforts to ensure students have equal access to educational opportunities.

The proposal awaits a decision from a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Intermediate District of Alabama.

“Education is the cornerstone of American society,” U.S. Attorney Sandra J. Stewart for the Central District of Alabama said in a Friday press release. “My office fully supports the Civil Rights Division’s efforts to ensure equal educational opportunity for all students, and I am pleased that this case is close to a final resolution.”

Chambers County joins dozens of other Alabama systems that are still under decades-old desegregation orders. In order to be released from federal oversight, the district must prove to a court that black and white students have equal opportunities to learn and that its schools reflect the diversity of the community.

The district’s new desegregation plan comes after years of negotiations with civil rights attorneys. In 1993, Chambers County officials agreed to consolidate the district’s two high schools—an effort that failed after residents objected to a tax increase. The district tried the plan again in 2015 and worked with attorneys in recent years to reach a final agreement.

“Our ship should not remain moored in port,” Superintendent Casey Chambley told community members at a board meeting this month. “No matter how rough the waters, no matter how rough the seas or storms we face, we must sail this ship to provide our children with better opportunities.”

Closings of schools and facilities

Earlier this month, Chambers County announced plans to close and merge two elementary schools and a middle school in a bid to cut costs and diversify power supply patterns. Currently, these schools feed two high schools: the mostly black LaFayette High School and the mostly white Valley High School.

Before the end of the 2022-23 school year, the district will select a site for a new Consolidated High School. He says he will hold at least two public meetings in the Valley and LaFayette communities to determine where the school will be built.

After construction begins on the new school, LaFayette High School students will temporarily attend classes at Valley High School while the district renovates and transforms their school into a magnetic K-8 academy for science, technology, the arts , engineering and mathematics.

No faculty will be laid off as a result of school closures, and LaFayette and Valley students will be able to maintain their current class ranks until the new class of 9th graders graduate.

The district will also review bus routes and says it will ensure that all facilities are put into “acceptable – and as far as possible, equal” conditions.

Advisory Committee on Desegregation

It is common for some districts to seek input from parents and students throughout their desegregation process. Chambers County will create a Desegregation Advisory Committee that will be comprised of parents and students from each of the district’s two food models: Valley and LaFayette.

One parent will be named by the plaintiffs in the desegregation case, while others will be chosen by the superintendent. Together, the 12 DAC members will help advise the school board and superintendent on desegregation plans. They will also help decide on a new name, mascot and branding for the school.

The DAC will meet for the first time in the 2022-23 school year and is expected to meet at least twice a year for the duration of the consent order.

Currently, Huntsville City Schools is the only system with a formalized DAC. In its seventh year, the parent-student group led several community meetings to try to identify trends and issues in different schools and feeding patterns. They also have the ability to share data and information related to student achievement, funding, transportation, discipline, and school demographics with the public.

STEAM Academy and academic offers

All students zoned for Eastside Elementary, JP Powell Middle School and Five Points School will be assigned to a new magnet program in the Eastside building for the 2022-23 school year. When the LaFayette High School campus is renovated, the program will move there.

The program is open to all students in the district, but if the special school’s student body does not reflect the demographics of the community after three years, the district will change zones.

Chambers County said it will also evaluate the district’s gifted and talented program by the start of the 2023-24 school year and ensure parents are informed of course offerings and available after-school programs. , as well as how to request specific courses at their schools.

student discipline

In 2021, Chambers County saw 77 fights and about 300 total disciplinary violations, according to state data. Going forward, the district says it will use evidence-based practices such as positive behavioral interventions and supports and restorative justice to improve problem behaviors and close racial disparities.

These practices have proven themselves to reduce breaches of discipline. But rural and very poor schools can need more time, support and coaching implement programs with fidelity, experts say.

The district says it will also train teachers and administrators on these practices and provide an annual report that analyzes discipline data by breed.

Faculty diversity

Half of Chambers County’s students are black, but nearly 75% of its teachers are white, according to 2020 state data.

The district plans to make changes to its hiring policies and reshuffle staff to better reflect the racial demographics of the school system. The district says it will also avoid concentrations of highly certified or undercertified teachers in particular schools, but will ensure that all magnetic academy staff are properly trained and certified.

To recruit more black teachers, the system said it would recruit from historically black colleges and universities and create a self-developing teacher program.

Next steps

The order, if approved, will also require regular reporting to the court, the Justice Department and private plaintiffs. The court would retain jurisdiction over the consent order while it is implemented, and the Department of Justice would monitor the district’s compliance with the consent order.

You can see the full proposal below:

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