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Group files complaint against county BOE

Published 9:05pm Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A school improvement and community development organization has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education against the Tallapoosa County School Board after the board voted to close Edward Bell School.

Citizens for Better Schools and Sustainable Communities, Inc. faxed a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking the justice department’s civil rights division to investigate the board on the grounds it violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to a statement released by the organization Tuesday.

The title prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities, which are federally funded.

According to the statement, the organization filed the complaint in reference to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunity Act, which prohibits the denial of equal educational opportunity.

Ronald E. Jackson, executive director of Citizens for Better Schools and Sustainable Communities said in the statement the school board is denying equal education opportunity through closing Edward Bell by forcing black students to ride the bus at least 18 miles round trip to attend schools in Dadeville.

“Financial mismanagement is no justification for racial discrimination in student assignments, personnel assignments, school attendance zone lines, hiring, or whether to close any school,” Jackson said. “The closing of Edward Bell, as demonstrated by the board’s vote down racial lines, was a rank racial pretext to re-segregate Tallapoosa schools.”

In addition, the letter sent to the federal departments from the organization suggested no “business of education” reason for closing the school and also stated that the school board “refused to consider system-wide rezoning adjustments for the school district, which has a history of racial school attendance gerrymandering, having changed the Edward Bell school zone without any input from black county residents.”

The letter states the board bused white students living closer to Edward Bell School 15 miles to Reeltown School, which is predominantly white. The group argues this led to EBHS dropping enrollment.

Tallapoosa County School Board general counsel John Percy Oliver said in an e-mail Wednesday afternoon that no evidence of district gerrymandering has been found.

“For many years, the Tallapoosa County school system was, like many other school districts in Alabama and across the nation, under judicial supervision in order to accomplish desegregation,” Oliver said. “In the course of our compliance with court orders, substantial information on all aspects of our system was furnished to the court. No evidence of any attendance zone gerrymandering was found.

“The court found that our system was in compliance with all desegregation plans and released us from court supervision.”

Attendance numbers from schooldiger.com show a decrease in enrollment at Edward Bell School since 1987 and that year is the first one shown on the site. The site also shows the maximum number of white students for the school since 1987 at five in 2001.

While Edward Bell did achieve adequate yearly progress last year, the school failed to do so in the three consecutive years prior to last year. Failure to make AYP that many times consecutively put Edward Bell in school improvement allowing students the choice to attend other schools in the county.

The board and Superintendent Philip Baker have said the closing of the school is for financial reasons and is part of a plan to recoup a loss of stimulus funds and a three percent proration to statewide education budgets.

Baker has said closing Edward Bell could save the school system around $400,000.

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