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Parents, Local Groups Sue Halifax Commissioners Over Schools

teacher in a blur with classroom
Bart Everson
Flickr/Creative Commons

Parents and local groups have filed a lawsuit against the Halifax County Board of Commissioners, arguing that it fails to offer every student with the opportunity of a sound, basic education, as required by the state constitution.

Plaintiffs, which include three parents/guardians, the local NAACP chapter and the Coalition for Education and Economic Security, contend the board should merge the county's three school districts into one system. 

"It has chosen to maintain and fund an inefficient three-district system that divides its children along racial lines into 'good' and 'bad' school districts," the complaint states.

Halifax County is divided into three school systems: Halifax County Public Schools, Weldon City Schools and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District.

Halifax County Schools and WCS serve overwhelmingly African-American students, while students in RRGSD are predominantly white.

The complaint states that the divided system "imposes a stigma of racial inferiority upon black students" and hurts their access to quality educational resources.

"It goes back to the era of Jim Crow segregation," said David Harvey, president of Halifax county's NAACP chapter.

Harvey argues that the current system creates unfair competition for already limited resources, like class materials and quality teachers. He also explains that the board distributes its sales tax in a way that provide additional funding to RRGSD and WCS, but not Halifax County Schools.

While test scores in all three districts tend to be lower than state averages, WCS and HCS perform worse than RRGSD.

Since 2003, students at the two districts with majorities of African-Americans, have consistently scored 150-250 points lower on the SAT college entrance exam than students at RRGSD.

The suspension rate in Halifax County Schools is also nearly eight times the rate of RRGSD, according to the complaint.

In past debates over whether to merge the districts, opponents contend a unified system would not help the students and that leaders need to focus on management and finances instead.

The lawsuit is not related to the state Board of Education's recent decision to intervene in Halifax County Schools. The state board is now in charge of the county's budget—and hiring decisions—to help improve student performance.

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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