LOWNDES COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI) – More than 40 years after a desegregation order was first signed, a federal judge has granted Lowndes County schools unitary status.
A U.S. District Court granted unitary status for the Lowndes County School District after the district showed that it met legal requirements to end discrimination based on race or color in its operations to its approximately 5,000 students.
Unitary status means that the district will no longer need the approval of the Justice Department and the school board can resume its decision-making role.
“Over the last several years, districts have gotten out from under the Department of Justice in these desegregation orders and usually if there’s instances that come up, it will be dealing with the office of Civil Rights out of Atlanta,” says Representative Gary Chism of District 37 in Columbus.
The district petitioned the court just 3 years ago but was told facilities at the predominantly African American West Lowndes High School were still inadequate. Chism says now that they’re no longer under federal order, the district can proceed with future plans.
“There was talk about building a vocational complex and so if they do build that vocational complex, it will not have to go through the courts or the Justice Department. They’ll just be able to select a site and build a site without having to ask for permission,” says Chism.
Plaintiffs still have 30 days to file an appeal. Still, Lowndes County Schools Superintendent Lynn Wright says the unitary status decision will be good for the district.
“Really we don’t know exactly how that’ll impact everything. We’ve got to wait and see but we all know and agree it’s been a very positive thing,” says Wright.
The Columbus School District was granted unitary status in 2007. Forty-seven Mississippi school districts still operate under the Justice Department’s order.