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Desegregation, Test Score Mandates Leave Franklin Schools In Lurch

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FRANKLIN COUNTY, N.C. — At two Franklin County elementary schools, two federal orders are clashing.

The schools are supposed to let students transfer as a penalty for not meeting No Child Left Behind, but Superintendent Bert L'Homme said doing that threatens the balance of a 1967 desegregation order.

"We do know and I would expect families who were transferred to want to go back to their neighborhood school," said L'Homme.

In court papers, a judge told the Franklin County school system he couldn't give them any direction. But in court last Friday school officials say he basically told them the desegregation order trumps No Child Left Behind.

When asked if the racial balance issue is just a way to get out of the No Child Left Behind mandates, L'Homme said, "I don't think so. There are several things we had to do to comply with all the requirements."

No Child Left Behind tracks students in categories like race, income and disabilities. If one group doesn't make the grade, the entire school fails.

Test scores at the schools have improved. From 70 to 80 percent of students at both Louisburg and Franklinton Elementary schools are testing at grade level. Five years ago, the numbers were about 60 percent.

But the schools are still not attaining the No Child Left Behind standards. Parents like Ruth Rodriguez said they wouldn't leave even if the county officials complied with the transfer mandate.

"I wouldn't change my kids, I wouldn't transfer them," said Rodriguez.

Franklinton Elementary Principal Linda Frederickson said a handful of parents did ask about transferring. But she believes keeping things the same can achieve both goals.

Nationwide, 293 school systems are under desegregation orders. The U.S. Department of Education said Wednesday that nothing in the No Child Left Behind Act provides a school district with the authority to violate an applicable desegregation plan. On the other hand, they said the regulation clear clearly states that the existence of such a plan doesn't permit a district to avoid providing public school choice.

Department of Education officials said school districts under such plans should attempt to seek relief from the judge or agency overseeing the plan. However, the federal government won't take money from school systems that are trying to comply with the mandates.


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