UNC Center for Civil Rights releases special report on state of education in Halifax County

Posted on May 9, 2011 in Government and Law

The UNC Center for Civil Rights today (May 9) released its report “‘Unless our Children Begin to Learn Together…’ – The State of Education in Halifax County, N.C.” The primary focus of the report is the racial and educational disparities among the county’s three school districts – Halifax County Public Schools, Weldon City Schools and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District.

The UNC Center for Civil Rights today (May 9) released its report “‘Unless our Children Begin to Learn Together…’ – The State of Education in Halifax County, N.C.” The primary focus of the report is the racial and educational disparities among the county’s three school districts – Halifax County Public Schools, Weldon City Schools and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District.

Examining history, educational data and civil rights law, the report concludes that the maintenance of three separate, racially segregated school districts in Halifax County is a continuing violation of the constitutional rights of all students and severely undermines the quality of public education throughout the county.

Halifax County is one of the most economically distressed counties in North Carolina and is a large rural county with stagnant or declining public school enrollment. The report said racial and socioeconomic isolation of the students in the three school systems is stark: In a county that is only 39 percent white overall, the county and Weldon schools are both almost 100 percent non-white, while the Roanoke Rapids district is over 70 percent white. In addition, 90 percent of county students and 95 percent of Weldon students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, compared to 51 percent of Roanoke Rapids students.

The report said these divisions have their origin in the Jim Crow era of state-sanctioned segregation. When the federal government began enforcing school desegregation in Halifax County in the late 1960s, the county and state responded by creating additional, majority-white municipal districts. The U.S. Supreme Court declared those actions unconstitutional; however, the segregation among the three existing districts has never been addressed.

The center’s report also includes a statistical analysis that found non-white children in all three districts suffer substantial disadvantages as compared to their white peers in test scores, teacher turnover rates, teacher quality (as measured by various indicators) and funding. As a result of the racial isolation in the districts, the stigma of racial inferiority deplored by the Court nearly 60 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education continues to plague the county and Weldon schools today, the authors said. 

According to the report, creating a unified Halifax County school district would be a first step in developing strategies to improve student outcomes for all children, simultaneously addressing declining enrollment, limited resources and racial isolation. Unification could also create education reform through addressing old racial tensions and providing opportunities for meaningful integration and cultural responsiveness within the county’s schools. Finally, the elimination of the tripartite system has the potential to impact a number of factors affecting economic development in the area, including population growth, property values and employment opportunities.

“The report’s objective is to initiate informed community conversations about maintaining three separate, segregated districts and how this impacts the quality of education for all students,” said Mark Dorosin, managing attorney at the center. “We also hope this report will begin a national discussion of an issue that has long escaped attention: rural school segregation and the lasting impacts of Jim Crow.”

Rep. Angela Bryant, who represents part of Halifax County in the North Carolina General Assembly, said she was optimistic about the potential of this report to facilitate change within the county.

“This report can be a good stepping-off point for informed community engagement about our vision for successful educational outcomes in the county for all students as we go forward,” Bryant said. “We can open our eyes and see visions of truth beyond and across race, economic class differences and school system boundaries; look for the keys that will unclasp us and free us from the ‘better-than/less-than’ legacy; and prepare ourselves for the prosperity that can come from great educational opportunities for all our children.”

UNC Center for Civil Rights: To read an executive summary and the entire report, visit
www.law.unc.edu/centers/civilrights.

UNC Center for Civil Rights contacts: Mark Dorosin, (919) 843-5463 or Elizabeth Haddix, (919) 843-9807.