Plaintiff won’t object to district’s motion

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045;&045; A plaintiff in the court case that led to the Natchez-Adams schools’ current desegregation order has said he will not object to a motion by the district and the Department of Justice to dismiss the order.

A plaintiff-intervener in the case that originated in 1988, state Rep. Phillip West, D-Natchez, said he was aware of the school board’s intent to try to come out from under the court order.

But he also did not know until this week that a hearing had been set in the matter.

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While he did not have many details about the hearing on Friday, West said he will most likely attend.

&uot;I don’t see myself having any objection to what (the school board) wants to do,&uot; he said.

George and Debra Harden, also original plaintiffs in the case, said they did not want to comment on the motion made by the school district and had not decided whether they would attend the hearing.

Plaintiff Lonnie Nichols also did not want to comment on the motion.

On Nov. 22, the Natchez-Adams School District filed in District Court a motion for declaration of unitary status and for dismissal of the district’s desegregation case.

The district stated it felt the district had complied &uot;in good faith&uot; with the last desegregation plan, handed down July 24, 1989, for more than a decade.

In the motion, district officials said they have &uot;fully desegregated school system,&uot; and have &uot;eliminated the vestiges of racial discrimination resulting from the former racially dual system.&uot;

It all began Sept. 7, 1965, when the United States initiated action against the district for unlawfully operating a &uot;racially dual system of public education&uot; that violated the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

In 1969, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the district to stop operating a dual school system and convert to a unitary school system.

In 1970, the first modification was made to that order. The last order handed down against the district came in 1989 when District Judge William H. Barbour Jr. handed down a plan for the district to follow to desegregate the school system.

Less then 45 days later, school was set to begin, and the district had to comply with the judge’s orders and have the district ready for that first day of school, Sept. 5, 1989. The 1989 plan required the district to:

4Establish one high school for the entire district, housing grades 10-12 at the time.

4Establish one middle school, or junior high school, for the entire district for grades 7-9 at the time.

The 1989 desegregation plan did permit the district to reassign ninth grade to the high school once the completions to the high school facility were completed.

4Establish two elementary school zones, a northern and southern.

The students in the northern zone would attend kindergarten and first grade at Northside Elementary School, now Frazier Primary School and grades second through sixth to attend Morgantown Elementary School. The southern zone students were assigned to attend kindergarten and first grade at West Primary School and second through sixth grade to attend McLaurin Elementary School.

4Close Carpenter, Prince, Martin and Thompson schools or put them to use in a way other than as school buildings. The district was ordered to give the court annual statistical reports attesting to their compliance with the ruling.

The motion, made in November, said the district felt it was unitary, or desegregated, in all areas: student assignment, faculty, staff, the transportation of students, facilities and extracurricular activities.

In the motion, the district included annual reports from 1997 through the 2001-2002 school year showing statistics of the racial makeup of the students and faculty and in each of those areas.

The district also included excerpts from yearbooks to show participation of students in extracurricular activities.

Through all of the evidence the district presented, district officials said they felt it eliminated all segregation from the school district and is &uot;unitary in every respect.&uot;

Now it is left for the court to decide. The U.S. Justice Department already filed the motion with the district, not objecting to its quest for unitary status.

Barbour now wants all involved in the class action suit, all black students attending the schools of the Natchez-Adams School District and their parents or guardians to submit written comments to him on the motion.

A fairness hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the federal courthouse in Jackson.

In order to speak at the hearing, members of the class must have submitted comments to Judge Barbour, mailed to his office and postmarked no later than Nov. 20.