Minden Press-Herald

Oct 01st

Is unitary status best?

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Panel gives reasons

A spark for equality and justice was ignited at Monday night's meeting hosted by a group of concerned citizens at the Minden Civic Center to discuss dropping a push for unitary status.

"We are going to take the best of our school system that we have," said Frankie Mitchell, Webster Parish School Board District 9. "We have a restriction in the court order that the ratio should be 64/36 percent (white teacher to black teacher ratio) and that hasn't been met. We have to put out a very good effort to make anything work."

Citizens of Webster Parish learned the history and background of the Blaine Gilbert v Webster Parish School Board court order from a panel of concerned leaders.

The panel gave reasons and beliefs that unitary status is not in the best interest of the black community and future African-American students, along with adults seeking jobs in Webster Parish.

The panel included Malachi Ridgel, WPSB District 2; Kenneth Wallace NAACP President; Sam Mims; Minden City Councilwoman Fayrine Kennon-Gilbert; Frankie Mitchell, WPSB District 9; Rev. T. Alexander Knapp; Stepfret Williams; and Kevin Washington, WPSB Safety Supervisor.

The Green factors that are part of the court order include student ratio, faculty ratio, staff, transportation, facilities, extracurricular activities and good faith.

Ridgel believes the school board needs to stay under the court order until the factors have been met.

"It's not about black and white, but equality," he said.

Mims said that progress has been made in some areas, but the green factors need to be achieved to grant unitary status.

"Right now there are 82.8 percent (367) white to 17.2 percent (76) black teachers in the parish compared to the current number of white students 55.3 percent (3,649) to black students 42.6 percent (2,814)," he said.

The panel feels that if the court order is removed, the African-American people would not get the fair and equal chance as they could under the court order.

"Integration is not enough," Wallace said.

The citizens agreed to the statements of inequality and unfairness with applause.

"Because of the disparity that still exists, we still have a lot of work to do," Williams said. "Our kids need to see us (the black race) represented in those positions (as educators and supervisors)."

Washington said he spoke not as an employee of the school board but as a citizen of Webster Parish and member of the community.

"I want our kids to have the best," Washington said.

"It's not about one individual or one orgaization, but about our children," Knapp said. "We as a community have to take a stand and it's so important when we take our stand, it's based upon our conviction. And for each presenter to stand and possibly will receive some criticism, I want to commend each presenter.

"If we don't do anything, we will be taken for granted that it is okay to proceed with the unitary status," Knapp continued. "I am challenging you to not let this be a one time event. We need to hold the school board representatives accountable."

Knapp explained to the citizens that the panel is "nervous" about paying for the building (the civic center) where the meeting was held.

"We, as a community, need to give, and in our giving it will say to these individuals that we believe in the cause," he said. "I would hate for these individuals to go in their pockets to pay for their generosity. Let's invest in what happened here tonight."

Mims answered a concerned citizen's question regarding what the citizens of Webster Parish will need to do, by telling the audience to attend school board meetings, any forum meetings and that they may need to make a financial contribution for a civil rights attorney when the time comes.

"Be prepared to put money where your intentions are," Mims said.

The panel agreed that a move in the right direction has been made, but all objectives have not been met.

"This is not the end – stand firm in what you believe in," Mitchell said.






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