Julie MarshA black man is president of the United States, but up until last Friday, a black child couldn't be elected class president at Nettleton Middle School in Mississippi.
The school district sent home a memo concerning class elections, noting which offices would be held by white students and which offices would be held by black students. Following highly publicized objections voiced by Brandy Springer -- whose daughter was barred from running for the position of Class Reporter -- Nettleton School District Superintendent Russell Taylor issued a statement dropping the restrictions.
What was the reasoning for the policy, and why did it take public outcry to get the district to rethink the policy?
According to the statement issued by Superintendent Taylor on the district website, "It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body." That is, 30 years ago, the restrictions were actually implemented as a means of affirmative action -- designed to ensure that black students were represented in student government. The original intent, though awkwardly conceived and poorly executed, was positive.
But it's 2010. While small towns in the South still haven't necessarily caught up to much of the rest of the country in terms of racial integration, significant progress has been made, especially among Generation X and beyond. Why did it take indignation and disbelief from those of us outside Nettleton to prompt the district to eliminate these restrictions? Was the policy consciously continued, or is it simply a case of "that's how it's always been"?
What really bothers me is that in none of the grades was the office of president allocated for a black student. I can accept that there was originally good intent behind the policy as a whole, but I can't get past the fact that black students were barred from being class president -- even in 2008 when we elected a black man to the presidency of our country.
Did the district think that a black student wouldn't want to run for class president? Did the district think that the white students wouldn't accept a black student as class president? Did the district think that there would be outrage from white students and their parents if the position of class president was allocated for a black student? Why didn't the black students and their parents push back against this policy before now?
I don't have answers to any of these questions. But I still want to know. Because I'm betting that Nettleton isn't the only school district in this country that's just now waking up to its outdated policies.