Allegations of racism and “sneaky” decision-making were lobbed at the Mobile County Public School System this week as proposed actions at two local schools have some claiming black students have historically been the first targeted for rezoning and school closures.
In the past, school officials have said these issues are about numbers and not race as some of the schools in question have seen significant declines in enrollment due to shifting dynamics in the city of Mobile.
The issue came to a head on Jan. 25, when several residents from Trinity Gardens addressed the board over concerns that students attending Brazier Elementary might soon be bused to nearby Prichard if the facility is closed at the end of the school year.
Built in 1964, Brazier has seen better days, and when the district broke ground on a new $14 million Fournier-Chastang School in Trinity Gardens, the initial plan was to house elementary school students from Brazier in the same building with middle school students.Earlier this month, though, word got out the board is now considering housing just middle school students at the new location. MCPSS spokeswoman Rena Philips said the district prefers to keep students around children their own age, typically grouping in grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
“We have heard concerns from some parents about having younger elementary students going to school with middle schoolers,” Philips added.
If that is finalized and Brazier does indeed close, students would have to be bused to Ella Grant Elementary School. Despite being just two miles away, Grant is located in Prichard.
Now some of the community members are upset about the change of plans and what they say has been lack a communication from school administrators. Scott Moore, a pastor with Trinity Family Ministries, said he’s heard the word “rumor” thrown around a lot.
“There is fear in the community. There are flyers being passed out by the people, and they’re afraid. It’s not a cowardly fear, it’s more a fear of, ‘not again,’” Moore told board members. “I would encourage you to focus not just on education, but more importantly on trust — how you can you make the best decision but also repair trust.”
Moore’s references to distrust were exemplified by other comments at the meeting from those who addressed the board. They are also laid out in a letter that has been circulating in the area detailing six examples of predominantly black schools being rezoned, repurposed or closed over the past seven years. A copy of that letter is available on our website, lagniappemobile.com.
Ernest Carlton, a 1968 graduate of the now-closed Trinity Gardens High School, read off the list of schools and then asked the board why those schools were chosen. He left without an answer.
“The only busing being done is to black children,” Carlton said. “Tell me, how many white schools have y’all closed? Never in the history of Mobile County have you closed any white schools to make room for other students.”
Though the board members didn’t respond directly, MCPSS did provide Lagniappe with a look at the student population numbers at the schools in question.
According to data from the Alabama State Department of Education, Brazier had 295 students in 2007, but today has only 233. While 100 percent of those students are black, the school itself is only at 47 percent of its total student capacity. The same is true at Ella Grant Elementary in Prichard, which only houses 265 students — leaving 53 percent of its total capacity unused.
Despite those declining numbers, those at the board meeting said the issue has become far too common in predominantly black communities that share a history with their neighborhood schools. Some claimed busing students to Prichard is unnecessary and dangerous, when many have grown up walking to the schools in their neighborhood.
The issue with Brazier has also been compounded by similar circumstances at Denton Middle School — another school with an entirely black student body facing the possibility of being repurposed in the future.
Though it’s early in the process, the board is also considering a proposal to convert Denton into the district’s seventh magnet program. Superintendent Martha Peek has previously said if it is approved by the board, the new magnet middle school would focus on technology.
Currently, 1,600 students are on a magnet school waiting list in Mobile County, and according to the system, many of those are in middle school. However, the school’s magnet programs are filled through a lottery system, which means if the school was converted, many of Denton’s 556 current students would likely be bused to another location that hasn’t yet been determined.
At this point, it’s only a proposal, but some parents have already expressed concerns with the idea on social media, and it’s also addressed in the letter circulating the Trinity Gardens neighborhood.
In response to the concerns, the school system has planned two public meetings to discuss the proposal and the circumstances behind it. The first public meeting is planned for 5:30 p.m., Jan. 27, at Denton Middle School. A date for the second meeting has not yet finalized.
Moore, who admits to being a newcomer to Trinity Gardens, told the board members they don’t haven’t to choose between regaining the community’s trust and making the best decision for students at Brazier or Denton Middle School.
“If something has come up and, it’s just not the right decision, it’s OK to repent. It’s OK to say, ‘we failed as a board and we wasted a lot money, but now more information has come out and we really feel like this is the best decision,’” Moore added. “But to move forward from here with transparency, I feel is very important.”