For plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Dallas Independent School District, the question is not what the district trustees say they’re going to do, but more a matter of “What have you done for [us] lately?
Four students at Maynard Jackson Middle School, the Black Coalition to Maximize Education and former Bond Administrator John Williams, are named as the plaintiffs in a lawsuit, filed July 14 in the United States District Court for North Texas, alleging that school district continues to discriminate against African-American and lower-income students by providing inferior educational facilities and fewer educational opportunities in the predominantly-Black sectors of the district.
“As attendance declines at schools in the African-American community, DISD closes or consolidates the schools, claiming that attendance figures do not justify continued operation of these facilities, thus DISD perpetuates the cycle of driving students and resources out of African American communities,” plaintiffs stated in the official complaint.
The petition charged DISD with neglecting inner city schools such as Maynard Jackson and D.A. Hulsey Middle Schools and Roosevelt, South Oak Cliff and Madison High Schools. Although millions of dollars are planned to be spent on schools in the southern sector through the recently passed 2008 bond program, the plaintiffs are alleging that such facilities were severely neglected through the 2002 bond package and should not have been allowed to deteriorate in the first place.
About monies spent in the $1.3 billion 2002 bond package, the complaint stated: “these funds have largely been directed to projects outside of the African American community.”
DISD officials declined to comment, stating that they don’t discuss current litigation matters publicly. The board of trustees did discuss the lawsuit at a closed session during a called July 24 board meeting.
A leading concern in the petition was the sewage problem at Maynard Jackson, which motivated the parents of the four student plaintiffs to file the lawsuit on their behalf.
“I’m really glad those parents took the initiative to file a lawsuit against DISD based on the health of their children,” said Shirley Daniels, a spokesperson for the Black Coalition to Maximize Education. “In 2008, you wouldn’t think that Dallas public schools would allow such inhumane treatment to happen to young people when we have high-tech technology to be able to eliminate such poisoning.
“Numerous reports were given to the Administration about the situation,” the complainant stated. “For years, there have been sewer problems at this school and in some instances raw sewage was on the front lawn of the campus. The stench was so strong that students and personnel complained.”
The Dallas Examiner reported in our April 17 issue about disgruntled parents and teachers who picketed in front of Maynard Middle School that previous week, protesting about the sewage problem, along with the overall quality of leadership at the school. Protestors said that the problem had gotten progressively worst over several years.
“They actually go in and pump it with lime to cut the smell down. Every three to four months that smell would actually come back,” said Anthony Peterson, who has named his daughter Essence as one of the plaintiffs of the lawsuit. “They’re putting a band-aid to an environmental hazard that our children are exposed to, day in and day out.”
Daniels claims one determining factor behind the lawsuit’s charges is to expose an invisible line down Interstate 35. Schools west of I-35 have fared far better overall than schools east of the highway, where the city’s African American population is the most concentrated, she assessed.
“Don’t tell me you’re building schools in Oak Cliff when I travel through the east side from 8th street all the way to Carter and see all of these old schools that need to be torn down and rebuild,” Daniels said. “They’re building new schools in certain parts of Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove, but not in the predominantly Black neighborhoods.”
There have been other issues in regards to the conditions of southern sector schools, said Daniels, such as constant water leaks at several schools like Roosevelt and A. Maceo Smith when it rains. During town hall meetings held on behalf of the 2008 bond program last spring, numerous citizens complained of deplorable restrooms and other concerns they said would deter them from voting in favor of the bond program. Voters approved the 2008 $1.35 billion bond program on May 10, but with just fewer than 54 percent of the vote.
“Declining facilities and inadequate academic opportunities have forced parents in minority communities to send their children away from neighborhood schools, because of the void of DISD-created opportunities. The complaint further stated this was done to the parents’ financial detriment, adding, “The projects that were not addressed in the 2002 bond program should have been moved to the head of the list in 2008, but were not.”
Lewis Rhone, a supporter of the lawsuit, said, “What the suit is designed to do is to bring attention to these matters…There are things that should have been completed in the last bond that were not, and are not covered in this bond.”
The district pushing the bond program even though the district’s 2007 audit had not been completed at the time also upset many.
“How can you vote on a bond with the lack of an audit,” Rhone said. “They [the board] operate in an atmosphere of arrogance. There are so many things they don’t know. To me, that creates a cloud of suspicion.”
Many of those supporting the lawsuit have also been concerned about tightening the school district’s ethics policy, which has been spurred by cases involving potential conflicts of interest among school board trustees, particularly a situation made public by a local newspaper report that revealed that trustee president Jack Lowe’s company was awarded a multi-million dollar contract with the district. The issue was a hot topic at a July 17 Dallas Achieves meeting.
“We want a policy that prevents school board members from doing business [with the district],” said Lee Alcorn of the Coalition for the Advancement of Civil Rights. “This is not complicated. The perception is just as bad as what it really is.”
Former state board of education trustee Rosie Sorrells said an upgraded ethics policy is needed to send a message of integrity throughout the district.
“If we’re going to clean up our act and do better than what we’ve been doing before, you start with the board,” Sorrells said. “You can’t tell somebody else to do something and they see you doing something different. The board has to set the example.”
The lawsuit demands that DISD cease such practices that neglect the affected schools, orders the “replacement or full repair of affected schools,” and awards compensatory damages to the plaintiffs.