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Bertie school attendance zones change

WINDSOR – When students of the Bertie County Public School System (BCPSS) return to the classroom on Aug. 25, some will find themselves in new surroundings.

That change is not linked to promotion from one school to another. Rather, it’s due to a shift in countywide attendance zones.

The most noticeable change comes within the Askewville district, one where the Bertie Board of Education, in its effort to appease a federal court order, altered the attendance lines to pave the way for additional black students in the classrooms at Askewville Elementary School.

Brent Todd, a spokesperson for Bertie Public Schools, said parents of elementary school children currently residing in the Askewville, Colerain, West Bertie and Windsor school zones or who are otherwise impacted by the change in attendance lines will receive a letter from education officials in the coming weeks notifying them of their child’s school assignment for the coming year.

&uot;The new attendance lines will not affect most students and should not result in any appreciable change in travel times for either race,&uot; Todd said.

BCPSS officials hope their latest effort to bring racial balance to Askewville Elementary will carry the system into full compliance with a 1968 federal desegregation order.

In late April of 2003, Terrence W. Boyle, Chief United States District Judge, ruled BCPSS had allegedly failed to fully comply with a desegregation plan set into motion back in 1968. In particular, Judge Boyle ruled Bertie’s public educational system, &uot;continued to operate a racially identifiable white elementary school and failed to develop and adhere to a student transfer policy consistent with its desegregation responsibilities.&uot;

Bertie school officials countered that Askewville Elementary is located in the middle of the only predominately white section of the county. The 2000 U.S. Census revealed the Town of Askewville had a population of 180, of which 178 were white.

However, in its &uot;motion for further relief,&uot; the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights pointed out to Judge Boyle in their argument that, during the 2001-02 academic year, white students comprised 81 percent of Askewville Elementary’s total enrollment of 150 students. Furthermore, they observed that, system-wide, whites comprised only 14 percent of the student population within the system’s six elementary schools.

Since the adoption of Bertie’s desegregation plan in 1969-70, white student enrollment at Askewville Elementary has ranged from a low of 77 percent (2000-01) to a high of 98 percent (1988-89). Prior to 1969, Askewville was an all-white school, both students and faculty/staff.

The issue of racial imbalance at Askewville Elementary focused on the Bertie School System’s failure to satisfy its obligation to draw attendance lines, &uot;in such a manner as to eliminate the effects of past racial discrimination and to achieve desegregation.&uot;

Following several legal maneuvers by both sides, the Bertie Board of Education and the U.S. Justice Department presented the federal court a proposed consent order last month, one addressing the outstanding desegregation issue. The court approved the order on June 21.

That approval paved the way for BCPSS officials to redraw the elementary school attendance lines. School system officials said these lines may shift slightly or specific students may be reassigned if the final attendance numbers result in any classroom going beyond the capacity limits set by the state.

The new attendance zone lines will account for an increased enrollment of black students at Askewville Elementary – a figure estimated at 54 percent.

All of the county’s elementary schools will remain open, thus quelling the rumors of closing Aulander and J.P. Law.