Local News

Judge wants state to take over Halifax schools

Posted March 18, 2009 11:19 a.m. EDT
Updated March 18, 2009 11:47 p.m. EDT

— A Superior Court judge has ordered a hearing for next month to determine who should run Halifax County Schools for the system's "apparent failure" to provide students with "equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education."

"This is academic genocide and it must be stopped," Judge Howard Manning wrote Monday in a letter to the school system notifying it of the April 29 court hearing. "It is time for the state of North Carolina … to exercise direct command and control over the Halifax County Public Schools."

Manning cites poor end-of-grade reading test scores in the school system, which he describes as "nothing less than an academic disaster."

On the elementary school level, 71.3 percent of students are not proficient in reading, and 74.3 percent of middle-school students are not proficient, Manning said in his letter.

"This is irrefutable evidence of a complete breakdown in academics in Halifax County Public Schools," Manning said.

Halifax County Schools spokesman Keith Hoggard said the school believes part of the reason the numbers are above 70 percent is because of changing standards in the state's reading tests.

At the same time, he said, the school system recognizes that 70 percent is a high number. It is taking corrective measures, which include working with the state, Hoggard said.

“We agree with major points included in Judge Manning’s order. We, too, are aware of the district’s performance and the absolutely unequivocal need to provide our students with a sound, quality education that is second to none in the state and nation," Halifax County Schools Superintendent Geraldine Middleton said in a release late Wednesday.

Middleton said the district is already taking measures to improve student performance.

“We have conducted a comprehensive needs assessment to investigate our systems, processes, procedures, and instructional practices,” Middleton said. “The results of our comprehensive needs assessments have given us the information we need to put into action a transformative and systemic plan."

Manning has long overseen the academic performance of state schools after a ruling several years ago in Leandro v. State of North Carolina, a case that sought to get more state support for school districts in low-income and rural areas.