Civil rights investigation underway into construction of new Gibbs Middle School

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The Knoxville branch of the NAACP says Knox County Schools could “re-segregate” the school system by only building new schools in communities with a mostly white population.

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights told the NAACP on December 18 that it will investigate whether the school district’s plan for a new Gibbs Middle School is in non-compliance with Title VI. The NAACP had requested the investigation into the use of capital funds for new school construction and whether it’s had an “unjustified, adverse disparate impact on students based on race and/or national origin.”Previous story: Burchett, McIntyre ‘fist-bump’ on 2 new Knox County schools, teacher raises

Between $70 million and $100 million has been spent over the past five years on new school construction, says the NCAAP. “While Knoxville Branch NAACP does not oppose construction of community schools, studies paid for by the Knox County schools system and the Knox County government have revealed that capacity is not the reason for new construction for a new Gibbs Middle School,” said the organization in a statement.

“All the children in Knox County deserve the same opportunities no matter what school that you go too, it doesn’t matter,” said Lakesha Ross-Jones, a parent of a student in East Knoxville.

A letter from the U.S. Dept. of Education OCR states the NCAAP alleges that the construction of Gibbs Middle School will cause Holston Middle School to become underutilized “and identifiable as a school intended primarily for black students, resulting in re-segregation.”Web Extra: Notice of complaint from OCR to Knox County Schools [PDF]

The NAACP says schools have been replaced or newly built only in communities with 95 percent white population and nearly nothing is spent on construction in areas with an African-American population greater than five percent.

“We want nice buildings over here too, we want fresh facilities,” said Tomma Battle who has children at Vine Middle School and Austin East.

The proposal to build middle schools in the Hardin Valley and Gibbs areas was approved last summer. Both the county and school system agreed the schools were needed.

“We take the issue of equity and fairness very seriously, and will work with the Office of Civil Rights as they examine this complaint,” said Knox County Schools spokeswoman Melissa Tindell.

Knox County School Board member Gloria Deathridge said she saw the possibility of this from the beginning. She was one of three board members who voted against a resolution to build the school.

“I felt like it was re-segregation,” said Deathridge, adding that her initial concerns were that a new Gibbs middle school would take almost half of Holston Middle School students out of her district, putting them into Gibbs. “When I first came on the board, we built schools because of over-crowdedness. And so now I think we’ve gone away from that. And if we’re going to do that then let’s just do it for all.”

School board member Patti Bounds has supported the new school because she feels like all students should be able to attend a community school. Bounds said she still wants to see the new school built, but she takes the investigation very seriously and wants the school board to look into its options.

“I would like to see possibly a comprehensive re-zoning by the board to make sure that every school to make sure that students are attending the schools and every school is equally divided as far as enrollment,” she said. “I don’t believe it will re-segregate, but additional information is needed.”

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