Aug 30, 2010

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Following an uproar over a policy it said was designed 30 years ago to achieve racial equality, a school district board in a Mississippi town on Friday scrapped a system of student elections where race determined whether a candidate could run for some class positions, including president.

The rules sparked an outcry after Brandy Springer, a mother of four mixed-race children in Nettleton, Miss., complained that her 12-year-old daughter couldn't run for class reporter because she wasn't the right race. Read the original memo

Springer contacted an advocacy group for mixed-race families and the NAACP called for a Justice Department investigation — not surprising in a state with a history of racial tension dating to the Jim Crow era.

By Friday afternoon, Superintendent Russell Taylor posted a statement on the school's website, saying the policy had been in place for 30 years, dating back to a time when school districts across Mississippi came under close scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department over desegregation.

"It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body," the statement said. "It is our hope and desire that these practices and procedures are no longer needed."

"Therefore, beginning immediately, student elections at Nettleton School District will no longer have a classification of ethnicity," it added. "It is our intent that each student has equal opportunity to seek election for any student office."

Springer, who moved to Nettleton from Florida in April, said her daughter was told the office of sixth-grade class reporter at Nettleton Middle School was available only to black students this year.

Her anger grew when she saw school election guidelines that allowed only whites to run for class president this year. In alternating years, the positions would be reversed so blacks could run for president and whites could hold other positions, district officials said.

Even if the policy is an attempt to ensure black and white participation, Springer said diversity is no longer a black and white issue, with a growing number of mixed-race children, Hispanics and other ethnicities attending school together.

'Ethnic diversity' now embraced, school says
The school agreed, saying it the statement that it "acknowledges and embraces the fact that we are growing in ethnic diversity and that the classifications of Caucasian and African-American no longer reflect our entire student body."

Springer is white. Her two older children, including the sixth grader, are half Native American. Her two younger children have a black father.

"How are they supposed to be classified?" she asked.

"My main concern is that the object of school is to prepare people for life. An employer could never do this: Advertise a position for a white man only or a black man only," she said. "This is not a lesson we want to teach."

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