City school system organizers ask Justice Dept. to intervene
By DON FLETCHER and
News Staff Writers
Organizers of an effort to have the three public schools in Atmore “secede” from the county school system and form a system of their own say they have waited long enough, and their patience has worn thin.
Loumeek White, president of Atmore Citizens for Change, filed Monday, December 30, on behalf of the group a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, charging two county officials with violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Alabama Public Records Law.
One of the major reasons for the group’s desire to pull out of the county’s education network is the inclusion for three successive years of Escambia County High School on the state’s “failing schools list,” creating a flight of some of the county’s best students to other schools.
Another sore point is the construction of a state-of-the-art career and technical center in Brewton to which Atmore students are not given access, but to which students in the Brewton City Schools system are.
“Time is passing, day by day, and we need to get things rolling,” said White, who will earn a seat on the county school board by default unless someone files an independent or write-in candidacy before November. “The (Escambia County, Ala.) Board of Education has not sent all the information that is needed for the study. The city has, but we know the BOE hasn’t, and we have no confirmation that the tax assessor (Thad Moore Jr.) has.”
During a March 2019 city council meeting, White contended that a high percentage of the county’s “smart kids” have left Atmore schools and are attending Escambia Academy, Northview High School (in Escambia County, Fla.), or schools in Flomaton, a situation that has created what he labeled a racial divide.
The civil rights violation reportedly stems from the fact that the majority of students still attending Atmore schools are minorities. State Board of Education statistics show that at that time, 322 of the 368 students at Escambia County High School were of African American descent.
The subject of a municipal education network was first publicly breached in February 2019, and members of the Atmore City Council approved unanimously a month later to hire a Vestavia Hills firm to conduct a study that would determine the feasibility of such a move.
Nine months later, as the calendar flips over to 2020, the study remains in limbo, reportedly due to a refusal by two of three governmental entities to furnish information that is vital to completion of the study.
White said Dr. Ira Harvey, CEO of Decision Resources, confirmed that he has received all the information he requested from city of Atmore officials. But, he said, Harvey told him when they last talked that none of the data requested from the county school system or the county tax assessor’s office has been forthcoming.
Harvey had not responded by Tuesday’s press deadline to a Monday voice message seeking confirmation of the claims, and Superintendent of Education John Knott had not replied by Tuesday’s press deadline to a Monday email request for confirmation or denial of the group’s claim against him. (School system personnel are out for Christmas break.)
In August, Knott said the Escambia County Board of Education has not entered into an agreement with anyone. The feasibility study is a contract between the city of Atmore and Dr. Harvey.
“We’ve not been informed of anything,” Knott said at that time. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re where we were before. This is not something in my purview.
Knott said he has received one email but no official correspondence from Dr. Harvey. Regardless, he added, the burden is not on the Escambia County school system to provide data.
“The city has the absolute right to consider and to seek and inquire about the possibility of going to a city school system. We’ll cooperate any way we can with that process,” Knott said in August. “Most of our information is available through public sources … I’ve had no formal request for information, but I will comply with providing needed information for the study.”
White said he and other group members have held their tongues and tried to allow the process to move forward. Apparently, he said, it is not going to do so without help from another source.
“We talked with the mayor, and he said he met with Mr. Knott,” the ACC president said. “We have tried our best to work with them. We have pulled back, but now it’s time to push forward. We just want the feasibility study done, no matter what the results, so we can go from there.”
According to White, the action was filed this week in order to make sure 2019 ended — and 2020 began — with a show of forward movement.
“We wanted to make sure everything was done before the first of the year,” he said. “We want to hit the ground running in the new year because it’s an election year.”