Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

July 1, 2014

Judge weighs schools’ status

Few attend hearing on desegregation efforts

VALDOSTA — A fairness hearing concerning the unitary status of Valdosta City Schools elicited little response Monday from the community.

“I truly haven’t made up my mind about what to do about this. The real problem is that they don’t care,” said Middle District Federal Judge Hugh Lawson responding to comments from the sole person who raised objections during the hearing Monday morning at the federal courthouse on North Patterson.

The hearing was an opportunity for the public to voice concerns and comments about the Valdosta Board of Education’s motion to dismiss a suit brought against it by the federal government in 1970 in an effort to compel the system to implement a desegregation plan.

The Valdosta Board of Education filed the motion in March, and the federal government did not oppose since it had determined the board had “satisfied its remaining desegregation obligations” outlined in a 2010 consent order, according to court documents.

No more than 15 people attended the hearing, excluding journalists, lawyers and court personnel. The Rev. Floyd Rose, president of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wrote a letter several weeks ago asking Lawson to move the hearing date away from the Independence Day holiday to encourage more community involvement but was denied.

“Interested citizens were asked to send in their comments,” said Lawson. “Only one person filed an objection using the required procedure.”

Mark Patrick George, Valdosta/Lowndes SCLC education committee chairperson, was the only person who filed an objection and the only person to speak against granting unitary status at the hearing.

“Until there are consequences, nothing will change,” said George.

While addressing the court, George raised several issues of concern for the SCLC including the Valdosta City School’s low graduation rate for minority students, its mostly white school board and what George described as a lack of implementing innovative ideas to produce change.

George said the lack of community involvement at the hearing was due to a mistrust of the school system among community members who believe they can do nothing to affect change.

“I think the court can send a message that they have to be proactive instead of rubber-stamping this and letting them go back to business as usual,” said George.    

A statement released by the Valdosta/Lowndes SCLC claimed that the board of education misled the court by reporting long-standing practices and procedures as “affirmative measures” to recruit qualified black faculty members instead of implementing new approaches.

“The Board of Education has gone to great lengths to go out and seek highly qualified black instructors, and they are hard to find,” said Gary Moser, attorney representing the Valdosta BOE. “The school will continue to update its personnel plan. ... The bottom line is that the board of education has complied with the 2010 consent order.”

Moser said that George’s claims were “untrue” and that the board has been pleased with several new minority hires who are recent Valdosta State University graduates.

“We have complied with the requirements of the consent decree, and if the judge decides to grant unitary status, we will continue to hire a diverse teaching staff,” said Valdosta City Schools Superintendent Marty Roesch.

Joseph Wardenski, a lawyer representing the federal government, said the government had concerns about non-compliance with the school’s personnel plan that had remained “uncorrected” but has since been changed to the government’s satisfaction. Wardenski said the system now has African-American administrators in every school and that it is the government’s position that the school system is in compliance.

Lawson said the problems that the school faces may not be something the court can address.

“No system is perfect,” said Moser. “To get kids educated, it takes parents, teachers and the kids.”

Lawson said he will consider the matter and file an order in due course.

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