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Board gets update on program

Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Dr. LaToya Harrison updated the School Board on the Majority-to-Minority program at Thursday’s meeting.

As part of the program, African American students from Booker T. Washington, Elephant’s Fork and Mack Benn Jr. elementary schools have the option to attend Pioneer Elementary. Students from John F. Kennedy Middle School and King’s Fork Middle School have the option of attending Forest Glen Middle School also.

In the 2018-2019 school year, 27 students assigned to Booker T. Washington, 14 from Elephant’s Fork and 45 from Mack Benn Jr. chose to attend Pioneer. Nineteen students from John F. Kennedy and four from King’s Fork middle schools attended Forest Glen.

White students assigned to Pioneer also have the opportunity to attend Booker T. Washington, Mack Benn Jr. or Elephant’s Fork elementary schools. Students receive free transportation.

The program, Harrison said, stems from a 1970 lawsuit initiated by the United States against the Suffolk School Board. In 2009, while reviewing the school division’s compliance, the U.S. learned that the Board was planning to build Pioneer Elementary and close two other schools. After negotiations on the changes, the parties entered in a consent order on Dec. 18, 2014, to adopt a voluntary majority-to-minority transfer program.

During the 2014-2015 school year, there was a comprehensive review of the Board’s compliance with its desegregation obligations. After the review, the court granted the division partial unitary status with regard to facilities, extracurricular activities, transportation and faculty and staff assignment.

Unitary status means that a school district has eliminated the effects of past segregation to the extent possible and is achieved when boards have remedied all six factors as outlined in the Green v. County School Board of New Kent County Case from 1968. They address six factors, including: student body, faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities and facilities.

Under the most current consent order from 2017, the division is on a path to full unitary status as long as it continues to implement the Majority-to-Minority program and makes reasonable efforts to expand the program, modifies the attendance zones of students who are affected by the opening of the new schools in North Suffolk in a manner that furthers desegregation in the division, and develops and puts into place a student discipline improvement plan to ensure fairness and consistency in the handling of disciplinary offenses.

Harrison said the board will have met its obligations about student assignment if it satisfies the provisions through the 2019-2020 school year. The board could then move for a unitary status declaration in the 2020-2021 school year.