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Federal Complaint Accuses Harnett Schools Of Racial Discrimination

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A coalition of community members has filed a federal complaint accusing the Harnett County school board of perpetuating racial inequalities within its school system.

“African American students and their families are being injured and we will not stand for that,” said Dr. Rev. William Barber II, President of the N.C. NAACP, in a press announcement.

The Harnett County chapter of the NAACP and Citizens for Harnett Educational Fairness (CHEF) argue that the school board rejected proposed school reassignment plans that would have helped alleviate racial segregation.

The complainants point to one school in particular – Dunn Middle – where almost 50 percent of the students are African-American. The overall African-American student population in the county is 24 percent.

Dunn Middle is also under 246 seats under capacity, according to the press announcement.

Meanwhile, Harnett Central Middle School is 19 percent African-American and 200 seats over capacity. The complainants note that it has 23 mobile trailer classrooms and one mobile bathroom trailer.

“The harmful phenomenon that we’re seeing is that isolating these kids in these schools puts the school on the path to ruin,” says Elizabeth Haddix of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, which is the legal counsel for the complainants.

Haddix explains that racially isolated schools often have less effective teachers, higher turnover rates, and inferior facilities.

The Harnett County Board of Education has been discussing a middle school reassignment plan since late 2013. The complainants say that the board rejected multiple plans that addressed racial segregation in Dunn Middle, and instead voted to redistrict schools only in western Harnett County.

A spokeswoman for the school district says its attorneys are reviewing the complaint.

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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