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DOJ, Madison County School Board reach agreement to “desegregate” schools

The DOJ found that Black students were disciplined at an excessive rate and that multiple schools did not have a single Black faculty member.

(STOCK)

The Department of Justice and the Madison County School Board have reached an agreement to provide equal opportunities for Black students.

The consent order, approved Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Madeleine Hughes Haikala of the Northern District of Alabama, requires the school district to take action to provide equal access to gifted and talented services and other academic programs; ensure non-discrimination in student discipline; and improve practices for faculty recruitment, hiring, assignment and retention.   

“It is long past time to deliver on the promises of Brown v. Board of Education for our nation’s students,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are committed to ensuring that all students receive the educational opportunities they deserve across the Madison County School District. The Civil Rights Division will continue to fight on behalf of students in school districts that have not yet fulfilled their legal obligation to eliminate racial segregation ‘root and branch.’”

This consent order will address findings from the Justice Department’s most recent review of the district, including that Black students faced unnecessary barriers to participating in gifted and advanced programs, that they were subjected to exclusionary discipline at disparate rates when compared to their white peers, that Black high schoolers were more likely than their white peers to be referred for subjective infractions, and that the district’s recruitment and hiring processes left several schools without a single Black faculty member. Under the terms of the consent order, the district will, among other requirements:

  • Improve its gifted identification policies, training and practices; expand access to advanced placement and other advanced curricula; and identify and remove existing barriers for Black students;
  • Engage a third-party consultant to conduct a comprehensive review of the district’s discipline policies and procedures; revise the code of conduct; train staff on classroom behavior management; and collect and review discipline data to identify and address trends and concerns;
  • Review faculty hiring, recruitment and retention practices to identify barriers for diverse applicants, improve recruitment and retention of Black teachers and administrators, and ensure their equitable assignment to schools;
  • Appoint a district-level administrator to oversee implementation of the agreement and professional development for faculty, staff and administrators; and
  • Work with a newly-constituted and diverse Desegregation Advisory Committee.

The order also requires regular reporting to the court, the Justice Department and private plaintiffs represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The court will retain jurisdiction over the consent order during its implementation and the Justice Department will monitor the district’s compliance. 

Dr. Rachel Ballard, the new director of equity and innovation for the school system, said Wednesday that the school system is already on its way to addressing the concerns.

“We have already implemented several things already that are found in our consent order,” said Dr. Ballard. “The Madison County school system constantly evaluates our policies and procedures for fair and equitable treatment for all students and staff members. We’re thrilled that we are growing with our diversity. Our goal is our faculty, our staff, our administrators to reflect our community so we are moving forward in that direction.”

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Ballard’s position is a requirement of the consent decree with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the order.

The system has three years to meet the benchmarks laid out by the consent order and must check in with the court, the DOJ and the NAACP.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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