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Schools closure receives verbal okay

WINDSOR – Step one is complete.

Yesterday (Monday) morning, the Bertie County Board of Education was informed by its attorney, Carolyn Waller, that the United States Department of Justice has verbally approved the Board’s plan to fulfill the terms of a desegregation order handed down by the federal court.

“We (the law firm of Tharrington Smith, LLP of Raleigh) have received a verbal response from the Department of Justice, one saying they were approving your plan,” Waller said. “We will now put together a formal plan for presentation to the court.”

Waller continued by saying she did not know of the exact timetable of the presentation to the court nor did she know of how long it would take the court to formally approve the plan following the presentation.

However, she did say that based on the correspondence between the law firm and the federal officials, the Justice Department feels once the Bertie Board of Education implements either option, upon formal approval by the court, unitary status should soon follow for the school system.

The plan also stated that the Bertie Board of Education retains sole discretion to determine which of the two options is selected for implementation.

On Dec. 22, Tharrington Smith submitted the Bertie Board of Education’s desegregation plan to the U.S. Department of Justice.

That plan, the second of two proposals, was developed following a Dec. 15 meeting of the School Board. There, the five-member board agreed to a plan containing two options.

Option one is to close two elementary schools n Askewville and J.P. Law n by the end of the 2006-07 academic year and redraw the attendance lines for the four remaining K-5 schools (Aulander, Colerain, West Bertie and Windsor).

Another elementary school, Aulander, is added to the closure list in option two. There, the option calls for closing all three by the end of the 2008-09 academic year; redraw the attendance lines for the remaining three K-5 schools (Colerain, West Bertie and Windsor) and build a new elementary school for 450 students. The proposed new elementary school would be constructed and opened by 2009 if there are sufficient funds identified and specifically earmarked for the project by no later than the end of the 2006-07 academic year.

Both options were met with stiff opposition during a public comment session built into a Dec. 19 joint meeting between the Bertie Commissioners and the School Board.

Meanwhile, a grassroots organization in the county n Community Schools SOS n launched an effort last week to gain 4,000 signatures and embark on a letter-writing campaign, both aimed at informing federal officials of their desire to keep all community schools open in Bertie County.