Five Franklin County School District employees, parents and community members testified in federal court on Monday that there is still racial discrimination in the district’s hiring process and treatment of black staff and students and the district should not be released from federal oversight.
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate questioned the witnesses at a fairness hearing. The hearing was set after the U.S. Department of Justice announced in June that it would no longer oppose the school district’s motion for declaration of unitary status — its push for the court to release it from federal oversight.
Wingate said he will hear on Tuesday from two to three more community members who are opposed to a declaration of unitary status in the district, along with several witnesses who will testify on behalf of the school district. He said the U.S. Department of Justice has not yet indicated whether it will put forward any witnesses.
“I intend to go through the entire process and hear what everyone has to say to see exactly where we are,” Wingate said.
Wingate clarified that while the federal government changed its position in June, he is not bound by that reversal.
“I’m not bound by their determination … It’s not a done deal for me because I am here to hear the objections and to weigh them, which is why I have asked a lot of questions on this matter,” he explained. “I want to hear everything from everyone before I make some determination.”
The U.S. Department of Justice filed its original complaint against the district in 1969, asserting the district was operating the two separate schools “as a means of perpetuating racially segregated schools,” the document states.
In its motion for declaration of unitary status filed in December of 2015, the school district said it has operated on a “unified basis” since combining the formerly all-white Franklin School and the formerly all-black Lillie Mae Bryant School in 1970. It said everything from transportation to staff to extracurricular activities are integrated.
Franklin County School District is one of 42 school districts in Mississippi still under federal desegregation orders from the 1960s and 1970s.