State law likely won’t help keep students at HHS

Published 7:51 am Thursday, September 19, 2013

Despite a state law that gives students who live within five miles of a county boundary line the ability to attend the school nearest its residence, a federal law says otherwise, according to Mike Jones, attorney for the Crenshaw County Board of Education.

Last week, The Journal reported that a group of parents from South Montgomery County whose children had attended Highland Home School for several years were fighting to keep the students enrolled in the school.

In the spring, “44 or so” students received letters requesting documentation of residency in Crenshaw County, which is required by federal law.

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This school year there were 66 new enrollees for the school, and 30-plus students were turned down that didn’t meet the residency requirements.

Seven have been revealed since school began, and were asked to leave the school until they could provide documentation they are residents of this county.

Many parents and others have cited a state law that could grant them permission to do this.

An AG’s opinion from 1979 states that “specifically the Legislature provide that board of education in adjoining school districts may enter into agreements to jointly maintain (provide financial support) for schools on or near a county line. The agreement should by statute recognize which of the two jurisdictions will be responsible for the administration and supervision of such schools. Once such an agreement is established, children who live within five miles of the county boundary line shall attend the school closest to his residence.”

Still, Jones explained that system must follow federal order to desegregate, which trumps state law.

“This all arose out of the original desegregation order,” he said. “In the late 1980s, Lowndes County filed an action to get out from under the order. When they did, Lowndes County had to give a report on other students coming out of the county. Butler County, Montgomery County and Crenshaw County had some. It was a ton of kids. When the justice department saw this, they filed something against us. As part of it, we had to establish a policy, we went to court and we had to say that under very limited circumstances we would accept students from out of county.”

When Crenshaw County requested to come out from under the order, Jones said, the policy was one of the things they told the court.

“We are going to stick to it,” he said. “In my opinion, if we were to take 40 white students out of Montgomery County, we are going to first, make Highland Home more white and make Montgomery County more black, and you can’t do that. You can’t accept students like that.”

Jones said when the system was under the order; it was required to file a report every year.

“We had to give an account of every student coming in and out, giving their names, address, age race and the reason for coming,” he said. “We did that for like 15 years. We had to analyze the effect of segregation. I think to do something now would put us back into jeopardy.”

Jones said when the system was granted unitary status, there was a line that explained that if the system were to not follow the rules, then they would once again appear in federal court.

School board policy allows for inter-district transfers if certain criteria are met, including a release from Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Thompson to allow the students to attend.

Additionally, students must also meet one of four criteria, including a vocational program not being available; safety concerns; health concerns or being an employee’s child. Once families present their cases, it’s up to the Crenshaw County Board of Education to allow them in the system.

Parents who attended last week’s board meeting told the board that they were OK’d by a former principal and someone at the central office.

As of Wednesday, zero Montgomery County  students have filed a petition with the board, Superintendent Randy Wilkes said.