Biloxi Schools investigated for racial discrimination

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Biloxi School District's decision to close an elementary school is under investigation.

According to the Biloxi School District's website, the U.S. Department of Education's Civil Rights division is investigating a complaint that the district was racially discriminatory when it decided to close Nichols Elementary School and consolidate it with Gorenflo Elementary.

Earlier this year, the Biloxi School Board voted to close Nichols, along with Beauvoir and Michel, as part of a cost-saving measure. However, groups like the "Save Our Schools Coalition" held numerous protests, claiming racial discrimination was behind the decision. Nichols is a star-rated school in a predominantly black neighborhood.

The U.S. Education Department told Biloxi Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Tisdale the investigation does not mean the complaint has merit. The agency said it will investigate the matter "as a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipient and other sources, as appropriate."

Tisdale said the district would fully cooperate with the investigation.

"We've noted all along that the decision involving Nichols was based on the same facts as the decision that involved Beauvoir, Michel and Lopez schools," Tisdale said in a statement. "It was a question of economics, not race. It's unfortunate that almost five years after Hurricane Katrina, school enrollment is down 22-percent overall, and down 45 percent in east Biloxi."

The letter did not identify the complainant. But James Crowell, one the chairmen of the Save Our Schools Coalition, said the group did file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the U.S. Justice Department.

He could not comment on the investigation, because the group's attorney was out of town Monday.

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