Nettleton changes race-specific school elections

NETTLETON – The Nettleton School District will no longer use race in deciding who can run for class offices.
The announcement came in response to reports of a district procedure that allowed only white students to run for some offices and only black students to run for others.
The district announced the change in a statement released to the media on Friday afternoon. That statement was approved by the district’s school board in a 5-0 vote during a special board meeting on Friday.
The board met in executive session for more than an hour.
The previous procedure rotated who was eligible to run for various offices, according to the statement. It does not specify how the positions were rotated.
The district has had black and Hispanic class presidents in the past, Superintendent Russell Taylor said. Taylor said he could not comment beyond the district’s statement.
The statement said that the current practices and procedures for student elections had “existed for over 30 years.”
“It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body,” the statement said.
Many school districts in Mississippi implemented race-specific policies for electing student officers, homecoming courts and other student positions after full integration in the early 1970s to ensure diversity.
Some kept them; others, including the Lee County, Tupelo and Baldwyn districts, don’t specify race in their elections.
For the current school year, class presidents in Nettleton had been required to be white for grades 6, 7 and 8, according to a note sent home to students at the school. It said that the vice president in grades 7 and 8 would be white, although the eighth-grade vice president would be black. Race also determined who was allowed to run for secretary-treasurer and for reporter.
The new procedure will take effect immediately for Nettleton Middle School, which has not yet held class elections for the current school year. Nettleton High School already has held class elections this year, and will be under the new procedure beginning next year.
Last year, the district had an enrollment of 1,367 students and was 73 percent white and 25 percent black, according to the Mississippi Department of Education’s website.
The district’s procedure was brought to light when parent Brandy Springer learned that her sixth-grade daughter was not allowed to run for class reporter because she is white. Class reporters for sixth grade were required to be black for the current school year.
Springer has since withdrawn her children and placed them in the Lee County school district. In order to do so, she and her husband rented a house in Plantersville.
“They were trying to make it fair so African-Americans were represented. I understand that, but at the same time, you’re encouraging children to separate,” Springer said.
“We need to be teaching our children racial tolerance so we don’t have the policy we have now. By encouraging them to separate, we’re not sending a clear message.”
Springer contacted the blog mixedandhappy.com, and the story quickly grew from there, getting picked up by other blogs, such as the Huffington Post and Gawker, and by national media outlets, such as ABC and MSNBC.
Springer also said she was disappointed by the district’s procedure of having both black and white homecoming queens and an equal number of court representatives from each race. It was unclear on Friday afternoon whether the district’s statement changes that.
Springer said that she was happy to see the district change its procedure on class elections but that she would not be sending her students back to Nettleton schools.
“I’m happy that they’re taking the first steps,” she said.
The district’s statement says it is their “hope and desire that these practices and procedures are no longer needed to help ensure minority representation and involvement.”
It also notes that future student elections will be monitored to help ensure that the change “does not adversely affect minority representation in student elections.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Statement from Nettleton School District

Media Statement

After being notified of a grievance regarding upcoming student elections at Nettleton Middle School, research was conducted that evidenced that the current practices and procedures for student elections have existed for over 30 years. It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body. It is felt the intent of these election procedures was to ensure African-American representation in each student office category through an annual rotation basis.

It is our hope and desire that these practices and procedures are no longer needed to help ensure minority representation and involvement. Furthermore, the Nettleton School District acknowledges and embraces the fact that we are growing in ethnic diversity and that the classifications of Caucasian and African-American no longer reflect our entire student body.

Therefore, beginning immediately, student elections at Nettleton School District will no longer have a classification of ethnicity. It is our intent that each student has equal opportunity to seek election for any student office. Future student elections will be monitored to help ensure that this change in process and procedure does not adversely affect minority representation in student elections.

Thank you

Superintendent

Russell Taylor

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Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal