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Hardship transfer guidelines a hot topic for Lawrence

By Clyde L. Stancil
DAILY Staff Writer

cstancil@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

MOULTON — Still far disagreeing about suggested guidelines for hardship transfers, Lawrence County school board members sent them back to their attorney for revision.

Superintendent Dexter Rutherford does not have a vote in the matter, but he said at a Monday meeting that a suggestion to keep students from outside Lawrence County from attending school here would hurt the system financially.

"I believe we tried that a few years ago, and it cost us some students," he said.

Fewer students means fewer state-assigned teachers, leaving Lawrence County either to lay off teachers or pay for them with local funds.

Bobby Diggs, who represents majority black District 1, said he would favor allowing outside students to attend Lawrence schools if there were restrictions on where those students could attend school.

"Whatever we do regarding out-of-district students should further desegregate our schools," Diggs said.

That would mean white students would have to attend predominantly black schools and vice versa.

"That's going to (drive) everybody away," Chairman Jackie Burch said.

He said a student who lives in Franklin County, close to the Lawrence County line, who has attended Mount Hope for six or eight years would have to travel to a school in Town Creek or North Courtland.

Rutherford said that would drive students to other school systems.

"My angle is purely survival," he said. "The more students we have, the more state funding we have."

Another suggestion calls for allowing students with hardship transfers in grades nine through 12 to keep them. The system's hardship committee would revisit transfers for students in lower grades before the upcoming school year.

Rutherford said that would cause a lot of heartache, and Burch and District 5 board member Wendell Logan agreed with him.

'Conditions change'

But Diggs supports the idea.

"Conditions change, and hardships have gotten us in a lot of trouble at some schools," Diggs said. "If a kid in kindergarten has a hardship and it carries him all the way through high school, that needs to be revisited."

District 1 parents say white students transfer out of the district, leaving the schools there with barely enough teachers and funding to operate.

Diggs also said that many hardship transfers were given for insufficient reasons, while Rutherford said the hardship committee has been more objective in the past five years, making the transfers granted in that period solid ones.

Earlier this year, Diggs and former District 3 board member Gerry Moses pressed for a list of hardship guidelines and discovered none existed. The board directed attorney H. Jerome Thompson to come up with a list of suggested guidelines for the committee to use, and send them to National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund attorney Damon Hewitt for review. Hewitt is representing the plaintiffs in the school system's ongoing desegregation suit.

The board reviewed the guidelines Monday and will consider them again at its Jan. 9 meeting.

District 2 board member Wade Harrison did not attend the meeting. If he agrees with Logan and Burch, they will have a majority, and students who already have hardships may be able to keep their hardship transfers. If Harrison sides with Diggs, there would be a stalemate.

"If it was granted six or seven years ago, right or wrong, to go in and jerk the rug from under (students) is not doing anybody any good," Burch said.

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