- Associated Press - Friday, May 29, 2015

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - The U.S. Department of Justice is questioning some parts of the merger plan for the Starkville and Oktibbeha County school system.

The government, in recent briefs filed in federal court, specifically questions a proposal to preserve a “one-race, African-American” school already comprised mostly of minority students.

The government is not opposing student assignment, transfers, transportation and gifted education within grades 7-12.

It opposes elements pertaining to student assignment in grades K-6, educational opportunities afforded to Oktibbeha County sixth graders and the process assigning faculty and staff to the consolidated district.

After a state takeover of Oktibbeha County schools, lawmakers passed legislation merging the system with Starkville School District effective this summer.

The Commercial Dispatch reports (https://bit.ly/1HyBtVn ) the government’s filing comes after school officials proposed a new desegregation order in March for the upcoming consolidated district. The two schools have been operating under federal oversight since 1970. The case is before the U.S. District Court in Aberdeen.

State law requires the school districts merge with or without an approved desegregation order.

Under the proposed consolidation, East and West Oktibbeha County high schools will close, and all countywide freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors will attend Starkville High School.

County seventh and eighth graders will also transfer to Armstrong Middle School, where the city’s sixth graders will also attend.

The county’s two elementary schools, located in the eastern and western portions of the county, will remain open and service pre-kindergarten through sixth grade students residing in outlying Oktibbeha County - their current attendance zones.

City elementary schools will also retain their existing attendance zones.

The plan preserves East Oktibbeha County Elementary School as “a virtually one-race school,” with a 94 percent African-American projected enrollment.

The racial makeup of East Oktibbeha, said Starkville superintendent Lewis Holloway said, is not intentional because its service area after July 1 will encompass the same territory previously serviced by the county schools. He said bussing city students to county campuses would likely draw the ire of many parent.

The Justice Department said it is willing to work with the local schools on a revised plan that will further desegregation East Oktibbeha. If the court rules time constraints prevent the development and implementation of a modified 2015-2016 school year plan, it asks the school system submit a new proposal by Oct. 1 for the 2016-2017 academic year.

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com


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