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Program seeks integration of Suffolk schools

Jordan Crawford | 7/14/2014, 3:01 p.m.
A federal agency told Suffolk Public Schools to adopt the program, Majority to Minority--a program in which students who are ...

It seems some of Hampton Roads may still be waiting to overcome. Because Suffolk is the last system in the state to ensure its schools are integrated, Black students who live in the Booker T. Washington Elementary zone will be able to attend a new, mostly white school in the fall.

The U.S. Department of Justice mandate stems from a time when schools across the country were segregated, even after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

Booker T. Washington’s enrollment was about 88 percent Black in the most recent school year. Pioneer Elementary, which will open in the fall, is expected to be roughly 72 percent white and 22 percent Black, according to division estimates.

So the federal agency told Suffolk to adopt a program, Majority to Minority, in which students who are a majority race in their school can attend another school where they will be the minority. Black students zoned to attend Booker T. could apply to go to Pioneer and white students in that school boundary could swap to Booker T.

Suffolk must have enough space at each of the schools and be able to bus students in a “reasonable” amount of time.

Some said the federal government is intruding into what should be a local issue.

“How can they tell me what to do in Suffolk?” asked School Board Vice Chairman Enoch Copeland, who represents the Holy Neck Borough, where Pioneer is located. “They don’t have the slightest idea what we are doing here.”

But some parents are happy for the opportunity to choose where their children should be educated.

As of late June, 35 students were signed up, with 33 of those going from Booker T. near downtown Suffolk to Pioneer, which is in the western part of the city off U.S. 58. Two signed up to switch from Pioneer to Booker T.

Solomon Foster, who is Black, wants his two daughters that are in the Booker T. zone to go to the new school. Both Foster’s daughters spent kindergarten and first grade at Booker T.

“They both enjoyed it,” he said. “They made friends there and I was happy with their education. But, I am excited for the transition.”

Deidra Johnson wants her son and daughter to interact with cultures different from their own and thus is in favor of her children attending the new school.

“Diversity is important to me,” said Johnson. “I want my kids to work with different people.”

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional, angering many, particularly in the South.

In some places, the verdict was essentially disregarded.

Ten years later, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act to confront resistance. CivilRights.org says the law allowed the Department of Justice to initiate or intervene in lawsuits to desegregate schools. A 1968 Supreme Court ruling said federal courts should monitor school divisions until they eliminate segregation.

Nationally, there are more than 180 divisions on the department’s “Open Desegregation Case List.” Most are in the South, but there are also some in Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana and Utah. There are two in North Carolina— in Franklin and Halifax counties.