When I read a poster’s comment about a school in Mississippi allowing only white kids to be class president in middle school, I had to read more and share it with you. Apparently, the school policy in Nettleton, Miss., began as an effort to rotate class officers among the races. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that this made some sense 30 years ago to ensure that black kids — who are in the minority in the community — held elected office.
But it sure doesn’t made sense in 2010.
If those reports are correct, I assume that this was the white kids’ year to run the show as students were given a memo earlier this month stating that class presidents in grades 6, 7 and 8 must be white. It also called for the vice presidents in grades 7 and 8 to be white, while the sixth-grade vice president would be black.
I have to wonder why parents haven’t risen up before now to challenge this outmoded policy. I am not sure if parents weren’t aware or simply weren’t overly concerned with racial rotations in class officers at the middle school. (I am not sure if students cared, either, as I haven’t found too many kids getting excited over middle school class elections. Running for class office seems to have fallen out of favor with a lot of students.)
I also think it is odd that the superintendent’s statement says that this system is unfair because “classifications of Caucasian and African-American no longer reflect our entire student body.” I would argue that using any racial or ethnic classifications to limit who can run for student government in any given year is a wrongheaded policy. I still remain puzzled why the change only came with outside pressure and not from within this community itself.
The good news is that this policy was changed today.
After being notified of a grievance regarding upcoming student elections at Nettleton Middle School, research was conducted that evidenced that the current practices and procedures for student elections have existed for over 30 years. It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body. It is felt the intent of these election procedures was to ensure African-American representation in each student office category through an annual rotation basis.
It is our hope and desire that these practices and procedures are no longer needed to help ensure minority representation and involvement. Furthermore, the Nettleton School District acknowledges and embraces the fact that we are growing in ethnic diversity and that the classifications of Caucasian and African-American no longer reflect our entire student body.
Therefore, beginning immediately, student elections at Nettleton School District will no longer have a classification of ethnicity. It is our intent that each student has equal opportunity to seek election for any student office. Future student elections will be monitored to help ensure that this change in process and procedure does not adversely affect minority representation in student elections.
Thank you Superintendent
Here is the NBC/MSNBC story, including updates that the school board voted today to change the rules:
The school board in Nettleton, Miss., voted Friday to reverse its policy under which race determined whether a candidate could run for class positions, including president.
According to a memo sent home with students last week, African-American students could not run for class president in Nettleton Middle School this school year. However, the board voted at an emergency session Friday to drop that policy, according to Craig Ford, a reporter with the NBC News affiliate WTVA, who attended the meeting.
According to the district’s statement, the practice had been in use for more than 30 years with whites and blacks rotating among offices annually.
“It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body,” Superintendent Russell Taylor said in a statement.
“Therefore, beginning immediately, student elections at Nettleton School District will no longer have a classification of ethnicity. It is our intent that each student has equal opportunity to seek election for any student office.”
Scrutiny of the practice occurred after Brandy Springer, a mother of four children, contacted blogger Suzy Richardson, founder and editor of the blog mixedandhappy.com.
“My [eighth-grade] daughter came home from[Nettleton] school telling me that she wanted to try out for the school reporter, but it is only open to black students,” Springer wrote Richardson. “They told her ‘she should run for class president, that was open to only white students.’”
The policy was also reported by Gawker and by NBC News, which obtained a copy of the controversial guidelines. Read the original memo
The memo said that only white students could be president of the school’s eighth grade, while only black students could be vice president.
In seventh grade, whites were the only ones who could be both president and vice president, while the only position a black student at Nettleton could run for in sixth grade was that of the class reporter.
Springer told msnbc.com on Friday she was “shocked” when she first saw the memo, and has since moved her family out of Nettleton — a small town of around 2,000 that Springer said is itself geographically segregated on racial lines — to nearby Plantersville, Miss.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, close to 67 percent of Nettleton’s population is white and 32.5 percent is black. In 2000, only 0.3 of the town’s residents identified themselves as being of mixed race.
According to an excerpt from the school’s handbook, homecoming positions are also divided by race – black and white, with no mention of other races.
A note recently handed out to students outlining criteria for elections says that class presidents in grades 6, 7 and 8 must be white. It also says the vice presidents in grades 7 and 8 will be white, while the sixth-grade vice president will be black.