HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Monday evening was the first public meeting for the Desegregation Advisory Committee made of 10 parents and two students involved with Huntsville City Schools. It was the first time the public got a chance to talk to and hear from the people the Department of Justice and Huntsville City Schools had appointed to the committee after an application process.
The committee was formed as part of a consent decree between Huntsville City Schools and the U.S. Department of Justice. This is just one part of the multi-part plan, as the school system works to get out from federal oversight that has lasted more than 50 years. Other parts include school rezoning, changes to student discipline and updates to the majority to minority transfer process.
"Everything is there in the consent order," said Chaundra Jones, chair of the committee. "We just want to make sure what's in there is being offered to every student in Huntsville City Schools."
"A lot of things are going on with the district," said Keith Ward, spokesman for the school system. "A lot of improvements and changes. And this is another piece to that."
Committee members say they were trained by people in the DOJ to be able to analyze data from Huntsville City Schools to ensure the system is complying with its consent decree and implementing it properly. They'll give feedback to the school system and answer parent concerns, too.
Some of those concerns came out during the public meeting, the third overall meeting the new committee has ever held.
"I'm concerned about transparency because I know they have to work through the school system," said Alice Sams with the Huntsville/Madison County NAACP branch.
Others questioned the committee's makeup. While it is made up of multiple adults from each district and representing different schools, from magnets to high schools and middle schools, some felt there was a lack of male representation on the committee. Out of 12, two are men. Only one of those is African American.
"I have three sons, so to have them represented is a big issue for me," said Monique Owens, a parent who came to the meeting. She said she came to be responsible for her sons' education, but also to see if the committee would address some parents' concerns about the disciplinary policy Huntsville City Schools is revising. "I don't find it positive, I don't find any positive reinforcement in it," she said.
Owens is pleased the committee will be taking a look. Members announced this is their first priority in a lengthy list of other things to keep track of:
- Extracurricular activities
- Student assignment
- Equitable access to course offerings
- Student discipline
- Positive school climate
Jones said anyone with questions and comments for the committee is welcome to leave them at this link.
With some of the skepticism, this meeting also inspired hope for change.
"I really want to see how they progress," said Owens.
"Hopefully it will come out all right," echoed Sams.
Jones said the committee is excited to get started. "We are looking forward to building from this point," she said.