Consent Decree fights problem’s

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 8, 2000

symptoms, and not greater issues

Laws are almost prohibitive when it comes to the running of our schools and our local governmental agencies.

Every year at this time, the state legislature goes into session to face a number of laws that legislators believe will make our lives easier. Every year, the courts issue mandates that they hope will do the same, guaranteeing life, liberty and freedom for all without fear of discrimination.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

For the most part, these laws that come forth from the state and the federal government are backed with good intentions. Still, the result is negative. By making it more difficult for local governments to manage their own affairs, municipalities and counties, and the school systems within them become more and more singular in purpose, mission statement and overall philosophy.

While some regulations need to be passed to keep these agencies in line, stripping power from them to concentrate it in a location farther and farther removed from the local people is negative.

One such issue is called the consent decree, a federally mandated set of regulations that target school districts in the South. Seventeen such districts in Alabama fall under this decree, which has the full support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The City of Troy School System and the Pike County School System are included in the 17 districts. Among other things, this federal mandate increases the difficulty level for administrators as they are forced to seek more minority applicants for positions, and seek to curtail any discrepancies in corporal punishment among races.

This doesn’t mean that schools can’t punish people based on race, but it does mean districts must be "race conscious" when punishment – including office referrals from teachers – is carried out.

While we agree with the spirit and intent of the law that is designed to reduce discriminatory practices in our public schools, we disagree with the policy as a whole as it seeks to establish a level playing field for all people.

Schools are not the place where problems that exist in society should be remedied.

While it is true that poverty has a negative impact on a student’s achievement in school, it is also a fact that race plays little or no role. Still, here in Alabama and in Pike County, many of the people living under the poverty level are ethnic minorities.

The Consent Decree specifies that the playing field for races should be equal, but how can it be when the poverty line so strongly resembles racial lines? A mandate that only a percentage of people living in poverty can receive office referrals is ludicrous, many people would rightly argue.

It undermines the school’s ability to discipline its children and in doing so, prohibits success by those who are forced to be schooled in classes where distractions run rampant.

In Pike County, it is almost as crazy to presume that racial factors can exclusively relied upon to see whether or not a school is discriminating against minorities. By failing to consider the levels of poverty in which students live, the Consent Decree makes a white-black issue out of what could otherwise be seen as good discipline.

The Consent Decree also takes a hard look at the numbers of minorities in education, claiming that local levels of minority participation in our schools falls short of where it should be.

We don’t disagree, but again, we feel that our schools are fighting battles that should be fought elsewhere. Some of the reasons for this problem come from low teacher pay, a national push to get minorities in education and lack of funding to carry out adequate recruitment.

In other states in the South, including Virginia, for example, bonuses are offered by schools that seek more minority teachers. Larger districts are facing the same problems as smaller districts, and because they offer better pay and more perks, they have access to the best. Add to this the urban districts that offer city life to young college graduates and the difficulty in getting minorities to Pike County becomes more pronounced.

We simply ask that our schools be allowed to hire the best candidates for their vacant positions. As long as schools do not discriminate against minorities and seek recruits of all races, it is difficult for us to swallow the blanket idea that the percentage of minorities in school faculty positions should match the number of minorities in the population.

Does this mean that we oppose equal treatment for minorities? Our answer is a resounding no. What we support are programs and policies that bring people of all races onto a level field inside the classroom and outside of it. By choosing to draw a line in the sand, our courts are failing to realize that factors outside the classroom are causing many of the problems that exist within our classrooms. Only when we fix those problems will we be fighting the disease and not the symptoms of it.

Feb. 8, 2000 10 PM