Rural Parishes Address Transportation, Desegregation Issues | Southern Education Desk
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Ongoing legal processes for two rural Louisiana school districts are highlighting state desegregation issues.
The Morehouse and Union districts are working to fully integrate their schools.
And one previously contentious issue is fading from prominence in these rural parishes.
|Jesse Devall - Morehouse Parish Bus Driver|
He’s been doing it for seven years.
Devall says the biggest difference between driving in the city and in the countryside is distance.
“We cover a lot of mileage. I would say anywhere from 70 to 80 miles a day – easily.”
The bus driver hits upon a major theme for Louisiana school districts that are under federal desegregation orders.
The orders are designed to eradicate remaining indicators of racial discrimination in schools.
Such orders often include a requirement to offer non-discriminatory transportation.
Once a district has met this condition and others, it may be eligible to have the desegregation order removed.
Then the district may be declared as having achieved so-called ‘unitary status.’
So far, only 20 of 69 school districts in Louisiana are unitary, according to the state department of education.
Monroe City Schools attorney, Doug Lawrence, has worked on desegregation issues for the district.
He says transportation tends to be a bigger issue in rural areas because of the long distances that buses need to cover in the countryside.
“The parish where I grew up, which is 64 miles from north to south – if you had busing in that scenario, it would take you an hour plus to ride from where you live to where you actually arrive at school.”
But this may be changing – at least in Morehouse Parish.
Parish transportation coordinator, Debbie Buckley, says that some of the routes in her district cover as many as 60 miles, but that’s equally inconvenient for all – regardless of race.
“In ours that’s not really – I don’t think that’s a consideration for us. You might have one race living in one area and one in another. But on most of ours we’re pretty balanced.”
Bus driver Jesse Devall agrees.
“If you notice now, we’ve got almost a 50/50 ratio. And that’s what school systems should be.”
Nearby rural Union Parish has about 2800 students in one of the largest geographical districts in the state.
It is working toward achieving legally desegregated status. Acting Superintendent, George Cannon, says transportation in his district appears to meet certain benchmarks.
“The benchmarks are based primarily on whether or not there is a differential in your transportation system in serving one population over another. So absolutely, race did not play any part in how any student in the district was put on a bus or where they were delivered as a result of that.”
Still, Cannon says some rural school districts have a ways to go.
“Surely it’s more difficult in the rural parishes. But I think any of those parishes that are fighting the remnants of segregation a long time ago have ceased putting kids on the bus because of race. So transportation in that sense is relatively much easier today to get unitary status on than some other things.”
With transportation waning as an impediment to desegregation, districts can now focus on other issues as they try to achieve unitary status. For example Cannon says his district is under federal court order to consolidate two schools for the purpose of integration.
Morehouse Parish’s lawyer, Steve Katz, declined to comment on developments in that district, but says there could be advancement toward official desegregation by December.