Testimony ends in city schools’ Unitary case in Federal Court

Both sides have made their final argument in the 53-year old desegregation case against the Monroe City schools, and the decision is now in the hands of the courts.

  Final witnesses and closing arguments were made in the case of United States vs the Monroe City Schools in Federal Court Thursday morning, ending a two-day hearing in which both sides left feeling they had proved their cases to the judge.

  The Monroe City School District has asked the federal courts to declare the district “unitary” or free of court supervision because it has complied with all consent decrees and has a system in place to insure that fairness is ongoing. The U.S. Justice Department has asked the court to continue its supervision of the district because the district has not fully complied with the court’s orders to fully desegregate.

   The Justice Department legal team was led by Kelly Gardner, a Harvard trained attorney from Washington D.C. The City school board was represented by Doug Lawrence. Superintendent Brent Vidrine was represented by his private attorney Scott Wollenson. Since the judge threatened to fine school board members $100 for non-compliance, the board severed itself from Vidrine in the matter and is requiring him to pay for his own attorney if his actions lead to a non-compliance judgment.

  Thursday testimony was given by Catherine Johnson, a Medical Magnet instructor at Carroll High School: Stephanie Pierce, a Health Occupations teacher at Neville High School; Phillip Hill, a Sports Medicine instructor at Neville, and Christopher Kyle a Sports Medicine instructor at Carroll.

   The judge also announced that while the court has received letters from the public, he will not consider the letters as evidence in the case. At the request of the Justice Department, the judge allowed groups and individuals to state positions about how a unitary declaration will impact African-Americans. The district was opposed to including the letters into the court record. The judge said at some point should the government might present an argument about community sentiments, then the letters could be used to document that sentiment in lieu of actual testimony.

   Scores of letters were filed by a Wossman alumni group, NAACP members and general members of the community in response to the request for comments. Over 700 Carroll alumni signed a letter in opposition to the unitary status request of the school system.

   The court also decided to allow an EEOC complaint filed by Georgiana Jones against the school district remain a part of the record. The district wanted Jones’ sex discrimination filing excluded because it shows she was biased against the system and taints her testimony against the district in the hearing.

Closing arguments: School Board

    The Monroe City Schools, represented by Lawrence, told the judge that it has complied with all aspects of the September 2016 consent decree and has demonstrated its good faith by complying with the court’s order to completely desegregate the district and put systems in place to insure the continuance of compliant activity.

    Lawrence said the Justice Department submitted no evidence that challenged the district’s actions to change the administrations of schools, assignments of teachers or the equitable distribution of course offerings in the district.
   He said the only area of contention was the Carroll Magnet School. He asked the court to consider where the Magnet School was in 2010 when it began compared to where it is now. He said the hearing focused heavily on perceived deficiencies in the Carroll Medical Magnet Program.

   Lawrence said the Justice Department places emphasis on the quality of the program at Carroll High School, but what it should do is consider how the program inspires students to one day pursue occupations in healthcare. He said too much emphasis was placed on whether Carroll Medical students actually pass certification tests or get jobs in medical professions after graduation.

   Lawrence said it is a “short-sighted position” to measure the success of the school’s medical program based on the number of students or pass tests or get certified, but on whether not exposure to the program has inspired them to dream about one day owning a nursing home or a medical facility.

   He said courses such as Pharmacy tech, offered at Carroll inspire students to pursue pharmacy, even if they don’t pass tests and become certified technicians at graduation.

   Lawrence said the district’s decision to build a $1.2 million complex that was not required by the consent decree shows its commitment to the program.

   Wollenson said the district has a strategic plan in place to insure ongoing compliance efforts. He said there is no indication that the district is trying to diminish the Medical Magnet Program. He said Carroll’s Pharmacy Tech class is the only one being offered in the state.

   He said no evidence had been given that the district would revert back after a consent decree had been given.

   Lawrence said the court has received enough evidence, “that even today, this court could declare the system unitary.”

Closing Argument: U.S. Justice Department

   The Justice Department team, led by Kelly Gardner told the court the district has not complied with the consent decree and should remain under federal supervision.

   Gardner said the district is relying on a report that in two pages informs the court that the district has complied, but the report’s claims, on further investigation, are not supported by evidence.

   In unitary status cases, Gardner said, a district must show that it complies with every aspect of orders and decrees which the Monroe District has not. She said much of the data the district used to establish its claims about faculty distributions and other areas are not supported by the evidence.

   Gardner said the largest example of non-compliance is the Medical Magnet component which allows students to take courses without certifications or certified instructors while setting up competing programs at other schools where students can actually get certifications.

   She said the district seems to be satisfied that the Carroll Magnet is “operational and functioning” while other schools duplicate its program with students who get certified and employed. “Operational is the bottom floor” but students deserve more, she said.

   She said the board set up classes at other schools that compete with the Carroll Medical Magnet and tried to hide behind state law which allows any school to set up medical track courses. She said the law does not require systems to set up any programs. In filings and testimony, the Justice Department claims if the district intended for Carroll’s Medical program to actually attract white students then it should totally unique to the district and be the only school that offers certified instruction.

   Gardner said the board’s approval of competing programs with certified results at other schools stripped Carroll of its magnetic appeal.

“There is no magnetic quality program” at Carroll that entices white students to attend the school and ultimately leads to desegregating the school.

   She said the Justice Department asks the court to continue supervising the district until it fully complies with all aspects of the court’s order. The hearing was held to determine whether a request by the Monroe City Schools to be declared “Unitary” should be granted.

  The testimony of Superintendent Brent Vidrine and Carroll Medical Magnet Coordinator Shandria Newton were central to the hearings. Other witnesses either supported or conflicted with their testimony.


      Unchallenged Testimony

      The following testimony by Dr. Vidrine and Ms. Newton was not challenged by the Justice Department.

       –The school district has reversed the race of four of six schools identified by the court as being traditionally white: Clark, Cypress Point, Neville and Sallie Humble. All four schools now have black principals. The principal and one of the assistant principals of Carroll High are now white, even though it was not required by the court. (Clark, located in the black community, is one of the oldest traditionally black schools in the city system)

        –Course instruction are equitably distributed to all schools in the district.

       –A new building is being constructed at Carroll High School for the Medical Magnet.

       –The new building may not be used only for Medical Magnet students it will hopefully “enhance all of our students,” Vidrine said.

       –There were training opportunities provided by Independent Research Association.

       –Gifted and talented students are made aware of the Medical Magnet Program.

      –Vidrine is satisfied with the present Medical Magnet program and its administration.

      –There were three applicants for Administrator of the Medical Magnet Program and the final decision on the choice of Newton was Vidrine’s.

      –Dual enrollment fees for students are paid by the district.

      –Racial composition of each school’s faculty is tracked and openings are filled with applicants of the same race. Vidrine testified that this is getting harder to accomplish since fewer people are pursuing education. A recent jobs fair only had 40 participants whereas in the past there were over 200.

      –The Medical Magnet is associated with two hospitals and two Nursing homes.

       –Stephanie Pierce a Health Occupations instructor at Neville testified that she teaches several medical classes at Neville. To insure that students were certified after taking her classes she was told to enroll in classes to certify herself and take the exams. She said the district or the school paid her expense and students who complete her classes can be certified in Heart Saver, Basic Life Saver, First Aid, CPR and AED (Automatic External Defibrillators).

    –Phillip Hill, a Sports Medicine instructor at Neville said he teaches about 54 students. He said the classroom has five treatment tables and daily instruction. He said students who complete his class are able to be heart saver certified. He said he was not sure who paid for his certification for the course but he did not.

    –Christopher Kyle, the sports medicine instructor at Carroll testified that he teaches sports medicine 1, 2 and 3. He said his largest class has five students and there are two students in sports 3. He said because he is not certified to teach CPR, AED or Heart Saver non of his students can be certified. He said he has not been required to get certified and neither has the school or district offered to pay expenses for his certification. He said he also monitors the Pharmacy Tech students in the Carroll Medical Magnet. He said he does not have a pharmacy background and does not instruct the class. Instead, the two students in the class use a computer program that teaches them the 300 commonly used drugs in the nation. The program prepares students to take the Pharmacy Tech test to get them job ready, however, he does not know whether any student has ever taken the test.

      –There were letters that were given by individuals and groups stating their opinions about the issues involved but were put under seal because they involved the names of individuals.

     –Newton testified that her duties as program coordinator are to: oversee the Magnet program, insure students wear proper attire on field trips, input grades, recruitment of new students, discipline and supervision of nurses and other staff. She said she does not teach classes because she has an ancillary certificate in counseling with a master’s degree but has no knowledge or training in any healthcare areas.

    –Newton said she prepared a student evaluation questionnaire and was aware that the evaluation had no reference to a medical program but was generic to any school program.

    –Newton testified that there has been no student mentoring from Grambling State University or Delta Community College, only ULM.

    –There have been no surveys or applications given specifically to white students about the Medical Magnet program at Carroll. However PowerPoint presentations were given at several schools, but no printed material to take home to parents.

     –Newton testified that the Magnet school’s job shadowing program really boils down to about two field trips a year: to AMR (ambulance) to see the inside of an ambulance and get a talk and a visit to the 911 center for a talk. If students want further shadowing, they must volunteer on their own on weekends or after school.

   –Vidrine said he does not know how many students passed pharmacy tech exams or those for Certified nurses assistant. He said most of what he knows about the Medical program came from listening to the testimony of staff at last month’s depositions. He said he played no hands-on role in the program but is ultimately responsible for its operation and approval of its staff.

   –Vidrine said some of the Medical Magnet classes are offered at other high schools because they receive extra points that raise the overall score of a high school if it offers classes such as Sports Medicine 1, 2, and 3 or Occupational Health. On cross-examination, Newton said because the Medical Magnets core subjects are offered at other district high schools it makes it highly unlikely that any students will transfer to Carroll to take subjects that are already available at their present school.

    -Vidrine said before the 2017-18 school year that HOSA or Health Opportunity for Students Association had been available at Neville, even though it was a magnet component at Carroll High. He said it is no longer offered “even though every high school in America offers it except Wossman and Carroll.”

Challenged Testimony

      The following testimony of Dr. Vidrine was challenged or conflicted with testimony given by the Medical Magnet Coordinator.

      –Vidrine testified that all schools have balanced within 15% plus or minus on three levels: High School, Jr. High, and Elementary. However, on cross-examination from the Justice Department, he admitted that Guidance Counselors, Dean of Students, and Curriculum Coordinators were not counted in the calculations which would have changed the percentages.

     –Vidrine testified that Shandria Newton is the administrator of the Medical Magnet Program. However, Newton testified that she is not the program’s administrator or director, but only its coordinator. She said the job was pushed on her in 2012 even though

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