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New step taken in effort to satisfy school deseg order

STORY BY RAY McNULTY (Week of March 17, 2022)

A federal judge this week approved a joint request from the Indian River County School District and local NAACP chapter to disband the district’s Equity Committee and replace it with a work group tasked with satisfying the remaining aspects of a 55-year-old desegregation order.

The eight-member work group will consist of four representatives each from the school district and NAACP.

According to the order issued Monday by U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams, who presided over a 90-minute, in-person hearing last week in Miami, the newly formed work group must file its first status report by July 31.

Her order modifies a Joint Plan approved in 2018, when the school district achieved some key requirements of the 1967 federal court order, specifically those concerning facilities, non-instructional staff and administrative staff.

School Superintendent David Moore said the judge’s ruling is yet another sign that the district is serious about addressing the issues cited in the order and continues to make progress toward resolving them.

“It was a joint motion requesting that we get rid of the Equity Committee and, instead, work directly with the NAACP,” Moore said. “We think we can make more progress and accelerate the process by working together without the committee in a meeting on public display.”

Moore said he’s optimistic because the relationship between the parties “is in a much better place.”

If so, local NAACP president Tony Brown isn’t saying.

Brown refused to comment on the hearing or the judge’s ruling because the case is in mediation, where discussions are confidential.

“People can see the same thing and see something different,” Brown said. “If I say something that differs from what they’re telling you, it’s a mess. So I’m going to follow the mediator’s directive and say nothing.”

Moore said “significant progress” has been made on six of the eight remaining issues. Among them are: access to transportation, access to extracurricular activities, student school assignments and improvement in hiring Black teachers.

He said the percentage of Black teachers in the district has risen from 9 percent when he took the job in December 2019 to 12.7 percent now.

“And that was accomplished in the midst of a pandemic,” he added.

Moore said he is pleased with the progress made in response to the desegregation order on his watch, but he won’t be satisfied until the district no longer needs to go to court.

“Yes, we’ve made progress in most areas, but there’s still work to be done,” he said. “We can do better, and we will.”

Although the relationship between the parties has been somewhat contentious in the past – Brown has criticized the School Board for not seeing the NAACP as an equal partner in the district’s effort to satisfy the desegregation order – Moore said he’s looking forward to the work group sessions.

“To me, it’s never been personal,” Moore said. “It’s always about the kids. I’m here to create a world-class school system.”

School Board Vice Chairman Peggy Jones attended last week’s court hearing and left feeling optimistic about the school district’s efforts.

“We still need to see improvement in the areas of student achievement and mentoring, but I think we’ve come to a point where we all want to move forward,” Jones said.

“The court has given us a chance to build on what we’ve accomplished thus far and begin anew,” she added. “I just want to make sure this is a team effort and we’re doing it right.  We can never become complacent, even after we satisfy the order.”

Moore said he believes more progress can made between now and the July 31 status hearing.

“That’s actually a good time for another status report,” Moore said. “We’ll have the end-of-the-year data and can see where we are.”