/Simpson schools case may be near end

Simpson schools case may be near end

JACKSON – Wednesday’s federal judge sounded like he was aiming to lift court scrutiny of Simpson County School District. This comes 34 years after the district was accused of widespread racial discrimination. “It seems that there has not been much, if any, evidence presented…that reflect issues of racism in the hiring decisions and the way things are set up,” stated Senior U.S. Judge William H. Barbour Jr. after a 1 1/2 day “fairness hearing” regarding the district’s request for autonomy. The final hurdle to Simpson County Schools being released from the federal desegregation orders is employee recruitment and hiring practices. The attorneys were allowed to examine the transcripts of hearings, prepare additional briefs and try to influence Barbour’s final ruling. John Hooks, a Jackson attorney represents the district. Suzanne G. Keys of Jackson, Torey Cummings, and Mitzi Paige are the U.S. Department of Justice’s opposing counsel. In 1970, Mississippi’s first federal desegregation order was issued to school districts. Many districts have since resolved racial discrimination cases and been released from court orders. More than 12 districts are still under Justice Department surveillance, including Simpson County. This was the first time that Simpson County was accused of discriminatory practices in racially orientated practices. It was initially charged by three adults, Gloria Jean Barnes, Cynthia Fletcher and David Barnes, on behalf of three minors. Hooks claimed that Simpson County School District followed court orders regarding employment practices and would continue doing so even if sanctions were lifted. Hooks also provided testimony. Keys and Cummings were the three witnesses who told complex stories about job losses and failures, asking if the district is following court instructions. Barbour asked many questions during the hearing and made passionate remarks about the possibility of a conclusion to the case that both sides have fought over for decades. He asked, “Is it now time to rule?” He was concerned about the “huge costs” incurred by the public schools district from its many court appearances and frequent reporting to the Justice Department. Barbour asked the lawyers to “Help me.” “If you have any other concerns that need to be brought to my attention in order to help this thing get sewn up, or give me a very good reason why it shouldn’t be, I would appreciate that.”