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Board votes to close schools

WINDSOR – The closure of at least two elementary schools in Bertie County will come sooner than expected.

At a Friday meeting of the Bertie County Board of Education, a motion was approved without objection to close Askewville and J.P. Law elementary schools by the end of the current 2005-06 academic year.

That decision is one year earlier than the scheduled closing of the two schools and came exactly 45 days after Judge Terrence Boyle, United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, ruled in favor of a consent order as part of a desegregation plan submitted Dec. 22 by the Bertie County Board of Education to the U.S. Department of Justice. Part of that consent order was to close Askewville and J.P. Law 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).

The consent order is a similar to a plea bargain between the Department of Justice and the Bertie School Board in an effort to settle an ongoing desegregation lawsuit.

According to Bertie Schools spokesperson Brent Todd, the system’s administrative staff is currently working with bus transportation officials to devise the best plan of how to reassign the Askewville and J.P. Law students. Todd said once that plan was finished, the parents or guardians of the affected students will be notified.

Todd did say that the plan to close Askewville and J.P. Law one year ahead of schedule was linked to the fact that the county’s two middle schools n C.G. White and Southwestern n will close at the end of the 2006-07 year. They will consolidate into a new middle school currently under construction across U.S. 13 from Bertie High School. The new middle school will open at the start of the 2007-08 academic year.

“It was discussed that if we waited to close Askewville and J.P. Law in the spring of 2007, the system would be dealing with four school closings at once,” Todd said. “By closing Askewville and J.P. Law this year takes some of the load off trying to close all four at the same time.”

There was no mention of another possible school closing in Bertie County. Part of the School Board’s plans submitted to the Department of Justice called for closing Aulander Elementary by the end of the 2008-09 academic year if funds become available to construct a new elementary school to serve 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.

The now approved desegregation plan will hopefully bring to an end a 39-year-old civil rights case filed on June 16, 1967, in United States v. Bertie County Board of Education.

The original complaint alleged 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 and subsequent court decisions.

Heery International, a Raleigh-based firm, was hired to make recommendations addressing the lifespan of each facility; the capacity of each school to provide the programs needed for students; the economic feasibility and wisdom of renovating any facilities that are in poor condition; and strategic alternatives to the current assignment of students, including options designed to provide cost savings to the district.