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Court-Ordered Racial Balance Remains the Rule for Franklin Schools

Posted March 11, 2008

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— More than 50 years after the United States Supreme Court outlawed school segregation when it ruled in the case called Brown v. Board of Education, people in Franklin County are still talking about racial integration.

The county school system is the only one in the state still under a federal court order to desegregate its schools.

That mandate affects where kids go to school today, and some parents are not happy about it.

It's an issue that's been forty years in the making.

“It doesn't have a place in Franklin County. Blacks, whites, Hispanics – everybody gets along,” said Angela Cochran, whose son goes to Royal Elementary.

Some parents are going door-to-door, trying to stop their kids from being forced to switch schools.

“We're trying to talk to folks about the school redistricting. I don't know if you all heard anything about it,” Cochran said as she began her explanation at one house.

The children would be moved from Royal Elementary to Louisburg Elementary because a new elementary school is opening in the southern end of Franklin County, forcing the school system to redistrict.

The system must do that to stay in compliance with a 1967 federal court order to desegregate. It requires that each school be within 15 percent above or below the district-wide percentage of minority students.

“The numbers mean an awful lot,” said school Superintendent Bert L’Homme.

Franklin County has to keep a close watch on how many blacks and non-blacks are in each school.

Some wonder why the federal government still forces this issue.

“I don't see why we have to be under court order to integrate our schools when we already are integrated,” said Tammy Morton, another Royal parent.

County Commissioner Sidney Dunston was in high school in Franklin County when the court order was issued, and he said it was needed then and is still needed now.

“If we could trust the system to do the right thing, that would be one thing. OK. But we're not at a point really that we can trust the system,” Dunston said.

Dunston says the integration mandate helps the county improve class inequalities.

“They're going to bring those children all the way out here to Royal just because of the color of their skin,” Morton said.

A decades-old debate continues.

In 2002, Franklin County tried to vacate the court order, but failed. A judge ruled more could be done to integrate schools within the county.

School administrators have compiled various plans to achieve the required racial balances in the schools and will hold hearings on them later this month.

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