Simpson County Schools Superintendent Greg Paes
Simpson County Schools Superintendent Greg Paes

Simpson County Schools are out from under a decades-long federal decree demanding changes in the way the district treats African American students, employees and prospective workers.

Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour Jr. dismissed the case, writing that the district “has eliminated the vestiges” of prior segregation “to the extent practicable.”

“We’re ecstatic,” said Superintendent Greg Paes late Tuesday about his district’s release from federal supervision.

“It’s like a breath of fresh air for our school system, but we will continue to do the right thing.”

One important change will be the district’s ability to make hiring decisions immediately, instead of having to wait on federal approval for any hires.

“We’ve lost so many top applicants across the years because they just couldn’t wait two or three weeks for a decision,” he said, noting it feels good to be on the same legal footing as so many of the state’s other school districts.

In 1970, the Simpson County School District, along with many other Mississippi school districts, went under federal court scrutiny for wide-ranging racial discrimination allegations and began working through a plan to remedy problems. In 1982, three students enrolled in district schools filed a class-action complaint on behalf of all “present and future” black children in the county, claiming the district continued racial discrimination.

In Barbour’s order today, he notes that the U.S. Supreme Court intended federal supervision of local schools to be a “temporary measure” and that the district “has complied, in good faith” with the order.

“Is it time to rule and let these aggrieved applicants for employment positions at the school, because of their race, go to more familiar courts and use actions that address those that have arisen years after this was filed?” he said rhetorically from the bench at the end of May’s hearings.

Tuesday, Barbour ruled that the district “should be released from further supervision by the court and the government and the burdensome expense thereof.

“The tremendous expense of complying can be better used by hiring more teachers,” Barbour said.

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