NAACP asks U.S. Department of Education to investigate Hamilton County Schools

NAACP asks U.S. Department of Education to investigate Hamilton County Schools

April 29th, 2010 by Kelli Gauthier and Yolanda Putman in News

The civil rights leader who won a 26-year desegregation lawsuit against Chattanooga city schools now is calling for the federal government to investigate the Hamilton County school system for what he calls racial discrimination.

The move comes less than one week after James R. Mapp was honored during a Hamilton County Board of Education meeting for his civil rights work.

"It's a fact that more money is spent on suburban schools than in the inner city," said Mr. Mapp, citing new schools such as Signal Mountain Middle-High and East Hamilton Middle-High in East Brainerd. "They're spending all around, and Brainerd and Orchard Knob Middle School have asbestos that should have been cleared around 1995."

Mr. Mapp, a former NAACP leader, was among about a dozen organization members who voted this week to draft a letter calling for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

NAACP President Valoria Armstrong is drafting the letter, and Mr. Mapp said he wants it sent immediately.

Schools Superintendent Jim Scales said he has not yet talked with NAACP leaders about the investigation. Until he sees in writing exactly what the association is claiming, he doesn't want to comment, he said.

The NAACP specifically is asking the Office of Civil Rights to investigate if the school system allows better facilities at predominately white neighborhood schools and if vocational offerings that once were located in inner-city schools have been moved.

The organization also wants federal authorities to determine if the school board zoned white children in Missionary Ridge and the city of Ridgeside to East Ridge, while assigning black students living near the area to Henry L. Barger and Hillcrest schools.

Mr. Mapp believes all of that to be true.

"The school board has allowed superior facilities and offerings for many white neighborhood areas," he said.

NAACP officials also complained that predominately black Brainerd High School still contains asbestos, even though a $1 million bond was provided in 1990 for the removal of all asbestos by 1995.

Mr. Mapp also cited several improvements needed at the predominately black Orchard Knob Middle School.

School board member George Ricks Sr., who represents the system's District 4, which includes several inner-city schools, said he needed more information before commenting on whether or not he's seen racial discrepancies.

School board member Chip Baker said that since many predominately black schools also receive Title I money for poor students from the federal government, it is likely that they actually receive more money than white schools.

He said he "highly doubts" whether Hamilton County Schools is treating black students unfairly, but he looks forward to seeing data provided by the NAACP.

"I welcome it," he said. "It's all about equity."

As for the NAACP claim that black schools are neglected and in disrepair, he said that could be said of many schools in the system, black or white.

The Office of Civil Rights will consider information given and the laws at the time of the complaint to determine if a civil rights inquiry or full investigation will be done, said Alejandro Miyar, spokesman for the Department of Education.

This is the second time in less than a decade that the NAACP has called for a discrimination investigation against Hamilton County Schools.

TIMELINE

1954 - U.S. Supreme Court renders the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision that leads to the desegregation of schools.

1960 - James Mapp files a desegregation lawsuit that leads to Chattanooga being under a 26-year court-supervised plan to desegregate schools in a case known as Mapp v. the Board of Education of the City of Chattanooga.

1986 - Magnet school debuts in Chattanooga.

1993 - City, county schools merge. Student body is 71 percent white

2002 - Civil Rights Project shows that local schools are 75 percent black or white

2002 - NAACP calls on the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights to investigate Hamilton County Schools for racial discrimination

2003 - After the Office of Civil Rights investigates for eight months, NAACP officials drop the complaint, citing some improvements at inner-city schools.

2010 - NAACP officials vote to ask the Office of Civil Rights to investigate Hamilton County Schools again for racial discrimination.

In October 2002, the Office of Civil Rights conducted an eight-month investigation of the school system to determine if there were inadequate resources at predominantly black schools, zoning that excluded blacks near East Ridge Elementary from attending that school and a lack of experienced

teachers at predominately black schools.

The NAACP dropped the complaint in July 2003 after Howard School of Academics and Technology was renovated and received new computers and students at Brainerd High School's success academy improved their reading scores.

However, former NAACP President Eddie Holmes said gains made during that time have been lost and another investigation of the school system is warranted.

"There is most definitely a disparity," Mr. Holmes said.

He cited the exclusion of Hill City residents from attending Normal Park Museum Magnet School as an example.

Hill City is located in the North Chattanooga community, but most Hill City residents are black or poor whites and are zoned for Red Bank Elementary and Red Bank Middle schools, records show.

They are excluded from attending their neighborhood school, Mr. Mapp said.

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