Lawsuit: Mississippi Schools Fail To Provide Equal Education For Black Children
On Tuesday, The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit against the state of Mississippi for denying good schools to African American students.
May 24, 2017 at 3:40 pm
On Tuesday, The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit against the state of Mississippi for denying good schools to African-American students. With overall education performance that consistently ranks 51st in the nation, black students bear the disproportionate brunt of the educational burden. According to the SPLC, all 19 Mississippi school districts rated "F'' by the Mississippi Department of Education have overwhelmingly African-American student bodies, while the state's five highest-performing school districts are predominantly white. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four African-American mothers with children in public elementary schools, asserts that this disparity is in violation of the federal law that enabled the state to rejoin the union after the Civil War. The SPLC is requesting a federal judge to force state leaders to comply with the 1870 law, which states that Mississippi must never deprive any citizen of the "school rights and privileges." Aside from the implicit school segregation at play here, the fact that the lawsuit is, in 2017, soliciting state compliance with a nearly one-hundred-fifty-year-old law which says Mississippi must never deprive any citizen of the "school rights and privileges," is highly disturbing.
The SPLC lawsuit claims that the schools attended by the plaintiffs' children "lack textbooks, literature, basic supplies, experienced teachers, sports and other extracurricular activities, tutoring programs, and even toilet paper." The group claims that in a white supremacist effort to prevent the education of blacks, the state has effectively watered down education protections that guarantee a "uniform system of free public schools" for all children. "From 1890 until the present day, Mississippi repeatedly has amended its education clause and has used those amendments to systematically and deliberately deprive African-Americans of the education rights guaranteed to all Mississippi schoolchildren by the 1868 Constitution," the suit states.
The suit, aimed at the following Republican elected officials: Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, also names the state school Superintendent Carey Wright and the nine appointed members of the state Board of Education as defendants. Already enthralled in a separate lawsuit over the misallocation of statewide public school funding, the suit is another blow to the optics of an already poorly perceived education system in the state of Mississippi. Defendants Bryant and Reeves maintain that education in the state is improving under their leadership. "This is merely another attempt by the Southern Poverty Law Center to fundraise on the backs of Mississippi taxpayers," the governor said in a statement. "While the SPLC clings to its misguided and cynical views, we will continue to shape Mississippi's system of public education into the best and most innovative in America." Reeves called the SPLC a "fringe organization," and said it's "almost laughable" that the legal group is simultaneously trying to "protect the status quo" by challenging efforts to direct public funds to charter schools that would provide more choices to minority students.
"I'm filing this lawsuit because the state has an obligation to make the schools that black kids attend equal to the schools that white kids attend," said Indigo Williams, the parent of a first-grade boy at Raines Elementary School in west Jackson.
In 1954, with the landmark "Brown v. Board of Education" ruling, the US Supreme Court outlawed the segregation of public schools. It wasn't until a decade later, with the passing of "The Civil Rights Act" in 1964, that the law was enforced in states and localities across the country. Still, despite many decades of hard-fought efforts for school integration, a 2016 report conducted by The Civil Rights Project, shows a striking return to segregation across the country. The report shows a disturbing rise in double segregation by race and poverty, revealing that schools with predominately black and Latino populations, consistently perform at lower levels than majority white schools. Nowhere does this statistic hold truer than in the state of Mississippi.
And here we are folks, it's 2017 and we're fighting for separate but equal schooling for black kids.