Justice Department, Madison County Schools reach agreement on equal opportunities for Black students

Court-Ordered agreement to address equal access to academic programs
On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced the U.S. District Court-approved consent order requiring Madison County Schools to take action in providing equal
Published: Jul. 6, 2022 at 11:55 AM CDT

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The U.S. Department of Justice and the Madison County School Board have reached a new agreement to provide equal educational opportunities for Black students.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced the U.S. District Court-approved consent order requiring Madison County Schools to take action in providing equal access to gifted, talented services, and other academic programs. The consent order also focuses on non-discrimination in student discipline and on the improvement of faculty recruitment and retention.

“It is long past time to deliver on the promises of Brown v. Board of Education for our nation’s students,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are committed to ensuring that all students receive the educational opportunities they deserve across the Madison County School District. The Civil Rights Division will continue to fight on behalf of students in school districts that have not yet fulfilled their legal obligation to eliminate racial segregation ‘root and branch.’”

The Department of Justice points to four main factors where disparities are found involving Black students and faculty.

D.O.J. reports several Madison County schools didn’t have a single Black faculty member. Alabama NAACP President Benard Simelton says he thinks diversity among school faculty is important.

“It’s someone you can talk to, someone you can relate to, someone you can look up to and say ‘I want to aspire to be like that person I want to come back and teach,’” said Simelton.

Madison County Schools leaders addressed the consent order for the public on July 6.

The newly named Director of Equity and Innovation, Dr. Rachel Ballard will oversee the consent decree. The very position she holds is required in the decree.

“We’re thrilled that we are growing with our diversity,” Dr. Ballard said. “Our goal is our faculty, our staff, our administrators to reflect our community so we are moving forward in that direction.”

Another factor the district will have to address is student discipline, after finding Black students are punished at a greater rate and more severely than their white counterparts. Also, removing barriers for Black students to participate in gifted and advanced programs.

“We certainly need to continue on a course that will be inclusive of everyone and give everyone an opportunity to succeed that starts with basic education for young people,” said Simelton.

The district has three years to find equal footing on the ten benchmarks listed below. Dr. Ballard says they’re already on their way.

“We have already implemented several things already that are found in our consent order,” said Dr. Ballard. “The Madison County school system constantly evaluates our policies and procedures for fair and equitable treatment for all students and staff members.”

The school system is required to check in with the court, D.O.J. and the NAACP.

The order addresses findings from the Justice Department’s most recent review of Madison County Schools. Some of these findings include:

  • Black students faced unnecessary barriers to participating in gifted and advanced programs
  • Black students were subjected to exclusionary discipline at disparate rates when compared to their white peers
  • Black high schoolers were more likely than their white peers to be referred for subjective infractions
  • The school system’s recruitment and hiring processes left several schools without a single Black faculty member

The consent order requires the following from Madison County Schools:

  • Improve its gifted identification policies, training and practices
  • Expand access to advanced placement and other advanced curricula
  • Identify and remove existing barriers for Black students in gifted and advanced programs
  • Engage a third-party consultant to conduct a comprehensive review of the district’s discipline policies and procedures
  • Revise the code of conduct
  • Train staff on classroom behavior management
  • Collect and review discipline data to identify and address trends and concerns
  • Review faculty hiring, recruitment and retention practices to identify barriers for diverse applicants, improve recruitment and retention of Black teachers and administrators, and ensure their equitable assignment to schools
  • Appoint a district-level administrator to oversee the implementation of the agreement and professional development for faculty, staff and administrators
  • Work with a newly-constituted and diverse Desegregation Advisory Committee

According to the release, the schools system is required to report regularly to the U.S. District Court, the Justice Department and private plaintiffs represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Read the full consent order here.

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