School Board rejects Justice deseg plan

The St. Landry Parish School Board believes it can do better than an anonymous group and the U.S. Dept. of Justice in reaching the remaining desegregation goals. It has about a month and half to find out.

On Thursday, the board voted 12-1 to reject the plan drafted by U.S. Dist. Judge Tucker Melancon’s bi-racial committee and signed off on by Justice.

Melancon in mid-May gave the board 120 days to respond to the proposal which involves consolidation, pairing and closing of some schools.

His options: accept, reject or propose an alternative. That’s like offering a patient an alternative to Milk of Magnesia.

Board Member Sonny Budden of Palmetto (Dist. 5) moved to reject the proposal since Melancon had advised the board through attorney Gerard Caswell that the current plan, put into effect in 2004, wasn’t done to address the factors of student assignment and facilities and to develop an alternative within the court’s deadline.

There was nothing spontaneous about either the motion or the board’s response. Several members delivered prepared remarks before a crowd of parents concerned about the proposed plan’s impact on their community’s school or schools.

Though his district is minimally impacted by the Justice plan, Roger Young of Eunice had the most extensive remarks among board members.

A retired educator, he reviewed school mix history in the parish, reminding that his district was the first impacted in the integration turmoil of the late 1960’s.

“We have witnessed a tremendous change in the acceptance and contribution of all people in this parish,” he said.

“Meaningful and lasting changes need time; it is a totally achieved challenge. We are a desegregated system. Only those involved from the beginning can truly appreciate what’s been achieved,” Young said.

“Is there a real reason for imposing more measures? What has happened since last year (when the system was thought to be close to a unitary declaration, freeing it from the federal thumb)? Parents are not unhappy with our schools. I plead with Justice for time to prove this,” the former teacher and principal said.

“Community schools are sacred monuments,” he said.

A number of other board members had similar views.

Budden questioned why an anonymous group selected by a judge could impose its will and noted long bus rides involved in the proposed plan.

Huey Wyble of Arnaudville (Dist. 7) also questioned a secret panel telling the parish what it has to do, and said he’ll pursue the membership’s identity until the day he dies.

In the end, Elinor Eaglin of Opelousas (Dist. 2), a retired educator, was the only vote against rejecting the Justice proposal.

“I understand the emotional part of it,” she said, nothing how much of the remarks sounded like what she heard in the ‘60’s.

“Rejecting the plan doesn’t mean, as the song says, change ain’t gonna happen, because it’s going to,” she said.

“At some point, we’ll have to suck it up and do it,” she said.

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