Bertie Commissioners urged to intervene

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 8, 2005

WINDSOR – Bertie County’s Board of Commissioners have been “called out.”

During Monday’s board meeting, Colerain resident Dean Stephens implored the commissioners to immediately intervene in an ongoing desegregation order against the Bertie County Public Schools system.

A federal court judge has ruled the county still operates a segregated school district and is in violation of a 1967 court ruling alleging the Bertie County Board of Education had failed to take adequate measures to eliminate the dual, segregated school system as it was required to do under Brown v. Board of Education.

In his Monday address to the commissioners, Stephens noted that the county has not discriminated in more than 30 years. After reading a copy of the federal court order, Stephens said it became clear to him that the recommendations to spend money, as suggested by a firm hired to conduct a study of Bertie’s public school facilities, are completely inconsistent with the order under the consent decree.

“It is important to remember the purpose of the consent decree,” Stephens said. “It is intended to eliminate the vestiges of past racial discrimination. It does not turn our school choices over to the courts, except to address the issues of past discrimination and past segregation.”

Stephens said he sees it as an insult if the Board of Education allows the claim that Bertie County is still so segregated and discriminatory that they must spend 35 million dollars (one of the recommendations in the facilities study) to overcome this discrimination

“The tax consequences of their request will be destructive to education,” he noted.

Stephens continued, “It is the position of the United States attorneys that J.P. Law Elementary has defects that are still based upon ongoing segregation. If correct, then fixing those defects is an appropriate obligation under the consent decree. What is not appropriate or reasonable is the claim by the Board of Education that the Heery report (facilities study) addresses issues for which the court is the correct forum.”

He claimed that, outside the issues at J.P. Law, none of the upgrades being requested are in any way related to past or current discrimination.

“Yet that is what the Board of Education is apparently trying to claim by sending them to the court,” Stephens said. “It is not the court’s business to decide how much money we spend on education. The court can only intervene if a specific school defect is the result of segregation or discrimination, past or ongoing. That discrimination must be proved.

“We cannot allow the court to order the level of funding they desire for ongoing school facilities,” he added. “The Board of Education needs to be required to go back and appropriately respond to the U.S. Attorneys claim that the defects in J.P. Law are the result of discrimination and limit their response to a defense of Bertie County. They must be stopped from asking for any actions or expenditures not based on discrimination. If not stopped, the judge will rule wrongly based on their wish list of expenditures.”

Based upon his opinion that discrimination has been ended in Bertie County for some time, Stephens said he feels Bertie should be granted &uot;Unitary Status.” He said that would end court supervision of Bertie County’s public schools.

“We need to insure that the judge receives views of the citizens of Bertie County who do not believe that the current and recent boards have practiced discrimination that affects the education of our children,” Stephens closed. “I hereby request that the Bertie County Board of Commissioners immediately intervene in this case to protect the interests of Bertie County and its citizens.”

Later during Monday’s meeting, Board of Commissioners Chairman Rick Harrell, reflecting upon Stephens’ comments, suggested setting-up a joint meeting with the Bertie Board of Education to address what he termed as, “a very important issue.”

With the blessings of his fellow commissioners, Harrell directed County Manager Zee Lamb to set-up the joint meeting.

Monday night, while addressing the Bertie Board of Education at their meeting, Harrell suggested a 4 p.m. joint meeting on Monday, Dec. 19. That time and date remains under consideration.