BCPS strikes old motion

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 7, 2006

WINDSOR – Bertie County Public Schools (BCPS) has moved one step closer to gaining unitary status in the eyes of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).

Following the end of a two-hour closed session here yesterday (Monday) morning, the Bertie Board of Education voted 3-2 to rescind a previous motion calling for the federal courts to grant immediate unitary status in favor of a motion to have the board’s attorney draft a consent order that will jointly satisfy the DOJ and the federal courts. That consent order will declare that BCPS will be in full compliance with the ongoing desegregation lawsuit filed by federal officials against BCPS and ask for unitary status assignment by the spring of 2008.

Over the past several years, BCPS has been under the DOJ microscope with items dealing with full desegregation. Federal officials said BCPS was still operating a segregated school system. The majority of their claims were based on the now closed Askewville Elementary School, where the student population was primarily white. Also, DOJ had issues with the BCPS student transfer policy and school attendance zones as well as recent issues with classroom ratios of white students at the elementary school level.

While Bertie School Board Chairman Seaton Fairless joined board member Melinda Eure in opposing the new motion, he said he and his colleagues were striving to gain unitary status.

“I was just hoping we could gain unitary status immediately, as in right now, as in this month,” Fairless said following the meeting. “I’m not against us moving in the direction to gain unitary status.”

During the meeting, Fairless said he felt like DOJ was asking too much of BCPS.

“”I feel like they’re jerking us around,” Fairless said. “It’s a case of reverse discrimination.”

Fairless pointed to classroom ratios at West Bertie Elementary. Using the three, 2nd grade classes as an example, he stressed that DOJ was upset that one of the three classes contained no white students. He said the other two classrooms each contained two white students.

Board members Gary Cordon, Gloria Lee and Rickey Freeman all voted in favor of the new motion. After casting his vote, Cordon said this wasn’t a “race issue,” but rather an effort for BCPS to satisfy the requirements handed down by the federal courts.

Lee said the board needed to make each and every effort for BCPS to remain in line with any and all DOJ requirements.

Meanwhile, Bertie School Board attorney Carolyn Waller said the board should look at this as a victory.

“The federal courts and the Department of Justice have recognized that you have complied with the desegregation order,” Waller said. “Actually, the timetable to gain full unitary status was the 2009-2010 school year. Now we’re looking at 2008. That’s just a little over one year away.”

After the meeting, Waller said the original motion calling for immediate unitary status would have been opposed by DOJ.

“There was very little chance it would have been approved,” she said.