Crystal Bonvillian, The Huntsville Times
HUNTSVILLE, AL -- Forty-one-years later, the U.S. Department of Justice still isn't comfortable with the level of race-based inequities found in Huntsville's public school system.
In a letter written by a Justice Department attorney last week, it is made clear that federal officials are closely watching the actions of local school system officials as they attempt to make cuts and close schools to alleviate the financial deficit that left the schools $19.5 million in debt.
The letter was sent to school board attorney J.R. Brooks, who in December 2007 had mailed four boxes of system data to Washington. That submission marked the first step in the lengthy process of coming out from under the 1970 court order that ended a dual school system based on race.
While the response, coming years later, did not expressly deny the system unitary status, it gave eight pages of examples why school officials should not anticipate that change anytime soon.
Federal investigators identified racial disparities in student and faculty assignment, advanced course offerings and student discipline.
Using enrollment data from the 2007-2008 school year, investigators found that student enrollment was nearly evenly divided by black and white students, yet the majority of the district's schools were "racially identifiable black or white due to the composition of their respective student bodies."
Investigators found a similar trend involving the assignment of teachers.
The investigation also showed that the school system appears skewed when it comes to the offering of advanced placement courses.
"Black students in the predominantly black schools in the district were not afforded the same opportunity to enroll in advanced courses as their peers in the predominantly white schools, and black students in the predominantly white schools were not enrolling in advanced courses at nearly the same rate as their white peers," the letter stated.
The Justice Department found that the city's predominately black schools reported significantly more discipline issues than predominately white schools of the same size. In the black elementary schools, even kindergartners were being suspended as forms of discipline.
Additionally, there were significant racial disparities in the number of students disciplined in the system's "non-racially identifiable" schools, the letter stated.
The Justice Department recommended that Huntsville consider hiring consultants to help with disparities related to advanced courses and student discipline.