Should race determine school attendance? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Should race determine school attendance?

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December 4, 2006

Albany --  Should your child's race determine where he can go to school? The U. S. Supreme Court took up that question Monday. School systems in Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington argue they should be able to reject students from certain schools based on their skin color in order to achieve racial balance.

Some say achieving that racial balance in Dougherty County is impossible because the racial makeup of the public school population has changed so drastically over the years. It's a school segregation issue.  It began way back in the 1960's.

"What's constitutionally required one day, it's constitutionally prohibited the next day? That's very odd," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgh. The odd, divisive question now in the Supreme Court.  Should race play a part in where children go to school?

It's the same question being asked in Dougherty County. "The order states that we have to have a racial makeup in the schools of 50 black, 50 white," said Dougherty County School Finance Director Robert Lloyd.

He says there's just no way to achieve the numbers a federal court order still says the Dougherty County Schools must follow. "Currently our African-American population is 86 percent of our school system," said Lloyd.

"What we want to do is become what is known as a unitary district and what that means is you've removed the vestiges of segregation in your faculty, staff and your student population," said School Board Attorney Tommy Coleman.

The Dougherty County School System has their own appeal to dissolve the 50/50 order. It's been pending in the federal court for years now. But new light being shed on the issue could get the ball rolling.

"That might have some effect one way or the other frankly on how ours will come out but only time will tell," said Coleman. Coleman says it's a complicated endeavor with a lot of history but the Supreme Court attention puts more emphasis on Dougherty County's filing in federal court.  He just can't put a timeframe on it.

"You can't. That's entirely up to Judge Sands and the other parties along with us as to how rapidly it's moved forward," said Coleman. It's been decades. "Hopefully it'll be resolved in due course," said Coleman.

The course began one way in the 60's but has reached a new possible turning point in 2006.

If the Dougherty County School System comes from under the 50/50 order, this would allow them to create more neighborhood schools where children would be able to follow their peers. Even then, Robert Lloyd says there would probably be no school with less than 65 percent African-American students.

Based on the questioning from justices during Monday's arguments before the Supreme Court, it seems a majority of justices seem prepared to rule that assigning students based on race is unconstitutional no matter what the motive. It could be several months before the ruling comes down.  

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