JACKSON – Simpson County citizens will speak Tuesday and Wednesday for and against allowing their local school district’s release from a 37-year-old federal court order to address racial discrimination issues.

U.S. District Judge William Barbour will preside over what’s called a “fairness hearing” in the federal courthouse in Jackson to determine if the Simpson County School District has complied sufficiently with his third court order and will be allowed to run its own affairs relating to faculty and staff assignments.

Simpson County
Simpson County

Holmes Adams, the lead attorney for the school district, and Suzanne Keys, attorney for the plaintiffs did not respond to Mississippi Today requests for comment.

However, in its motion to gain what’s termed “unitary status,” which is release from the court order, the district insisted it “has satisfied all requirements” of a 2011 consent degree and subsequent court orders growing out of a 1982 complaint.

But Marilyn Sue Coleman of Braxton, an African American with children in the district, said she opposes the release from federal authority.

“It would be extremely reckless on the part of the judicial system to abandon the decree that is already set in place,” she said. “I look forward to the day in which the school district will treat all the employees or potential employees with the same standard … without the ‘Good Ole Boys’ politics coming into play.”

Alzean S. Taylor of Mendenhall, another African American with children in the district, said the court order should not be lifted until the district “can prove they are not discriminating against black qualified applicants.”

Mississippi school districts first went under federal desegregation orders in 1970. Since then, many districts have resolved racial discrimination claims and earned release from the court orders.

But more than a dozen districts remain under U.S. Department of Justice scrutiny, including Simpson County, which was first accused of racially discriminatory practices in June 1982 by adults on behalf of three minors, Cynthia Fletcher, Gloria Jean Barnes and David Barnes.

Documents filed with the court recently show that Simpson County Schools will call two witnesses – Superintendent Greg Paes and former superintendent Glenn Harris. Possible additional witnesses are Elizabeth Christian, district human resources director, Debbie Davis, deputy superintendent, and Robert Sanders, Mendenhall High School principal.

The school district may offer hiring documents and 2014 reports to the court.

Six persons the plaintiffs “may call” are, without descriptions, Dr. Roma Morris, Callie Dantzler, Robert Sanders, Habray Carter, Paes and Christian.

Plaintiffs also plan to present exhibits including four teaching licenses and documents about several hirings, including Benjamin Johnson as girls basketball coach, Ramonica Feazell as Mendanhall High assistant principal, and Thomas McAlpin as Achievement Center principal.

Court documents show dozens of local residents submitted written objections to lifting scrutiny from the district.

Since the 1982 claims against Simpson County Schools, the federal court has released the district from scrutiny related to student body composition, transportation, extracurricular activities and facilities.

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