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Resource language arts teacher Eloise White teaches at R.A. Hubbard Elementary. While the entire school system has a larger percentage of black faculty members than is required, some schools have too many black teachers and some don’t have enough.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Resource language arts teacher Eloise White teaches at R.A. Hubbard Elementary. While the entire school system has a larger percentage of black faculty members than is required, some schools have too many black teachers and some don’t have enough.

No longer colorblind
Lawrence under court order to adjust facility’s racial ratios

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com · 340-2443

MOULTON — The Lawrence County schools superintendent said he’s proud of the system’s history of voting “colorblind,” but that practice will have to change to meet desegregation guidelines.

While the entire school system has a larger percentage of black faculty members than is required, some schools have too many black teachers and some don’t have enough.

Lawrence County is one of three local systems, including Decatur and Limestone County, under a federal desegregation court order to further eliminate racial inequality in schools.

Superintendent Dexter Rutherford said the county’s recent effort to evenly distribute black teachers by offering incentives to employees willing to transfer has shown no results.

The court order requires the system to have the same percentage of black teachers at each school as the overall percentage of black residents in the county.

Black residents make up 12.1 percent of the total population. Therefore, black faculty members should make up about 12.1 percent of the staff at each school, regardless of the percentage of black students at the individual schools.

Overall, the school system — with a 17 percent black staff — would appear to be above and beyond desegregation standards. But the problem lies in having the correct distribution, said Rutherford.

“We’re actually ahead of what we’re supposed to have, but according to the court order, the intent is that faculties should be (about) 87 percent white and 13 percent African American all over the county,” he said. “Our goal is to get there.”

The court has allowed the county a leeway of plus-or-minus 5 percent, making the required percentage between 7.1 and 17.1 percent.

Racial divisions

That goal will likely be difficult to reach in the county because some communities are predominantly white and others are predominantly black.

For example, students in the predominantly black community of North Courtland attend R.A. Hubbard. Black teachers living in that community usually request to teach there in order to work near home and be involved in the lives of students in their area, said Rutherford.

Sixty-eight percent of the faculty and 92.3 percent of the students at R.A. Hubbard are black.

“I think faculties migrate to their communities, if they can,” said Rutherford. “They’ll work in the county to get their foot in the door, but when a job opens at the school near their home, they transfer there. It’s not about the drive, but more about family and being a part of the neighborhood.”

The same principle applies to the predominantly white communities near Hatton and Speake schools.

There are no black teachers at Hatton Elementary and High schools and only one black student in the 751-student population.

At Speake, black teachers make up 2.78 percent of the faculty and black students make up 6.4 percent of the school.

The vast difference in the racial makeup of the students is not currently a problem, said Rutherford. A mid-’70s desegregation court order ruled that any racial diversity among students in the county was due to housing patterns and not a result of any action taken by the Board of Education.

“The intent is that the students have to attend the school in which they live, so we can’t really affect that unless we redraw district lines,” he said. “It’s not a problem under the court order unless we intentionally bus people to different schools.”

Financial incentives

The school board is trying two approaches to even the racial makeup of staffs at its 13 schools.

In April, board members approved a $5,000 incentive for teachers willing to transfer to schools needing to diversify. A white history teacher at Hatton and a black history teacher at R.A. Hubbard could potentially switch jobs and receive a $2,500 supplement each for the first two years.

The offer is still on the table, but no teachers had accepted as of Friday.

Secondary Supervisor Johnny Yates said the school system has the authority to force transfers, but has chosen not to do that.

“We’re trying to offer the incentives to get them to do it willingly,” he said. “If we don’t meet the court order, at some point the court may force us to do that, but that’s down the road and definitely not something we’d like to do.”

If extra money doesn’t entice teachers to transfer, the school system may be able to meet desegregation standards by factoring in race when hiring new employees, said Rutherford.

Previously, the school board hired teachers and approved transfers based on each individual case and gave no attention to the applicant’s race, said Rutherford.

“We’ve never looked at color when hiring and just tried to find the best teacher. Frankly, that’s something I’m very proud of,” he said. “But we’re not truly able to say that we’re hiring with a colorblind approach now because, for example, we need a white person at (R.A.) Hubbard, and at Hatton, we’re looking for a minority.”

Negative impact?

School board Chairman Bobby Diggs said the desegregation orders are “good for the system as a whole,” but he fears the redistribution of teachers may have a negative impact on students at the county’s predominantly black schools.

NAACP

Diggs also serves as president of the Lawrence County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

R.A. Hubbard, with mostly black students and teachers this year, would have more than 90 percent black students and between 7.1 and 17.1 percent black faculty once the schools reach their goal.

“We’ll have more white teachers at the predominantly black schools than we will black faculty staff, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing,” said Diggs.

“We haven’t had any complaints about it yet, but when they read this article, or as we get further into this court order, we’ll probably get some, and the biggest complaint is going to be the same concern I have. The faculty and staff at your predominantly black schools will be reversed.”

Diggs said, however, that he fully supported the board’s efforts to get out from under the court order.

“I do like that it will help us diversify the system and gain unitarian status,” he said.

“Once we’ve done everything we can to further desegregation, we’ll no longer have to go before the courts to get approval for everything, and we’ll be able to better operate the school system.”

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