Plaintiffs support decision

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 9, 2003

JACKSON &045; The 1989-1990 school year had many milestones for Kareem West, who was then entering his senior year in high school.

But he had more than your typical school dances, graduation and senioritis to deal with &045; he and his whole class had to go to a new school and immediately.

In 1988, George and Deborah Harden, Lonnie and Carolyn Nichols and Phillip and Carolyn West were all plaintiff-intervenors in a desegregation case against the Natchez-Adams School district in 1988.

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The case became a class action lawsuit where all of the black students and their parents or guardians were plaintiffs in the case.

There were three minor black children named in the case represented by their parents, one child from each level in the district &045; elementary, middle and high school.

Kareem was the high school representative.

The intervenors, along with the United States, brought their case against the district, saying the district was still operating a segregated district with racially-identifiable schools.

In 1989, U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour Jr. ruled the district must make two attendance zones for elementary schools, a north and a south, and must consolidate all seventh and eighth students into one school and all ninth through 12th students into one unified high school.

Phillip West said North Natchez High was an all black school while South Natchez High was majority white, making the district majority black. However, there was no black superintendent and the school board was never majority black.

Now, in just 14 years, the district has hired three black superintendents and has a majority black school board, 3-2.

Phillip said he now feels a &uot;major hurdle&uot; has been passed and &uot;everyone has a chance to put in a vision for what the school district needs.&uot;

At just 17 years old, Kareem testified in the 1989 case that he, going into his senior year at North Natchez High School, had never sat in the same classroom as a white student. After the merger, Kareem said he made many friends he would not have without the one high school.

One of his most vivid memories was going to fellow classmate Chris Hutchins’ house and playing basketball.

And while a court order was handed down just weeks before school started, changing the whole face of the school district and merging the two high schools into one, Kareem, along with many other seniors from 1990, said it worked out just fine.

&uot;When you have change you have to make adjustments,&uot; said Kareem, now 31 years old.

&uot;I appreciated the experience.&uot;

The biggest issue was not sitting next to a new person or getting along, Kareem said it was setting the school colors but that was resolved.

The biggest issue &045; school colors

&uot;We all got along and I think that’s continued as far as I can see,&uot; Kareem said.

All of these things, now reasons Barbour dismissed the case against the district Friday and declared the district had unitary status.

Phillip and Kareem were the only people to speak on behalf of the class at the fairness hearing in Jackson Friday.

Members of the class were asked to send written comments to Barbour either for or against the motion.

No one sent objections to the motion, the district’s attorney Holmes Adams said Friday, but three people did send responses &045; the Hardens, the Nicholls and Kareem West.

Phillip did not write a comment but requested to speak Friday.

&uot;I think it’s my duty and responsibility to follow through every step of the way,&uot; Phillip said.

And Phillip also thanked the court for its ruling and what it did for the district.

Phillip talked after about the growing pains of change in the district.

&uot;Many times we have to sacrifice and suffer Š for the future.&uot;

Because he did not consult an attorney or educational experts, Phillip said he felt he had no reason to oppose.

&uot;We put our faith in what we do know exists now,&uot; Phillip said.

Kareem echoed much of what his father said, saying he also felt it was his responsibility to speak Friday, &uot;being the son of the plaintiff-intervenors and being a student.

&uot;Just looking at the standpoint from information today, I see a good faith effort,&uot; Kareem said.

Phillip said the order has changed the district and will help it move to a higher level.

&uot;The order has worked but it did not work to the extent I thought it could have worked or should,&uot; Phillip said. &uot;People in the community did not totally embrace the directives of the court.

&uot;I know we are beyond that now, which is why I have taken this position.&uot;

Phillip said with this behind the community, the leadership in the district can move it forward and make changes that will improve the district, which are needed because it is a reflection of the community.