NAACP sides with plaintiffs

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 3, 1999

A proposal by the Natchez-Adams School District to reduce student overcrowding has apparently been met with skepticism by the local chapter of the NAACP.

The school district would like to reopen Braden School on Homochitto Street as a K-6 elementary school.

But since Natchez is under a federal court desegregation order, the district cannot make such a change without court approval.

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In 1988, local residents Phillip and Carolyn West, George &uot;Shake&uot; and Deborah Harden and Lonnie and Carolyn Nichols filed a lawsuit against the school district to improve integration.

The lawsuit led to the court order.

&uot;I will not weaken a ruling that was ruled in federal court as to what type of school district needs to be run in Natchez, Mississippi,&uot; George Harden said.

In a statement released Friday, local NAACP President Alfred Hunter said the group stands behind the plaintiffs.

&uot;The NAACP was in agreement with the plaintiffs from the beginning of the lawsuit,&uot; Hunter said. &uot;Our position has not changed.&uot;

The district’s plan also includes turning Frazier and West primary schools and McLaurin and Morgantown elementary schools into K-6 schools.

District officials believe this will reduce overcrowding at McLaurin and Morgantown and maintain a racial balance.

Both schools educate second- to sixth-grade students. More than 1,100 students attend Morgantown and more than 900 attend McLaurin.

Harden said he believes the school can solve overcrowding in different ways.

&uot;You can solve overcrowding by adding on to the schools that are in existence now,&uot;&160;he said.

In response to the statement, Superintendent Dr. Carl Davis said the community needs to do what is best for the students. &uot;I don’t really have a reaction to (the NAACP statement,)&uot; he said. &uot;That’s their position, and we have to respect their position.&uot;

But research shows students perform better in a smaller school environment, Davis said.

The district does not intend to use the Braden proposal to achieve unitary status – a status that means the district can make its own decisions about school zoning without court approval.

The district’s only request is to open Braden School, Davis said.

&uot;This has to do strictly with the overcrowding that we are faced with,&uot; he said.

Despite statements made earlier by member Eva Dunkley, the NAACP has now stated her thoughts do not reflect those of the entire group.

&uot;While Mrs. Dunkley co-chairs the education committee, she was not speaking for the Natchez Chapter of the NAACP,&uot; Hunter wrote in the release.

Dunkley could not be reached for comment.

&uot;The schools are overcrowded, and I feel something should be done about it,&uot; Dunkley said earlier this week.

District officials have hoped the plaintiffs would agree to the change so it could get court approval without going through a lengthy and expensive court battle.

School Board President Terry Estes agreed smaller schools are better for students .

&uot;The children (are) the bottom line,&uot; Estes said.

And if the school system is improved, Estes said he believes it will spur economic development — a major concern in the community.

&uot;I think that is a major obstacle for industry in Adams County in many cases,&uot; Estes said.

Davis said he is considering meeting with the NAACP next week.