Aug 27, 2010— -- After 30 years of barring black students from running for class president, a Mississippi public middle school, reversed a Jim Crow era policy today and announced students of all races would be allowed to run for student government.
Students at Nettleton Middle School looking to run for class president, previously needed to maintain a B average, obtain 10 signatures from their classmates – and be white.
Rules issued last week outlined the school's rules for seeking office. Students could run for president, vice president, secretary-treasurer and reporter, but some positions were off-limits depending on race.
In all three grades, only white students could run for president. In eighth grade black students could run for vice president and reporter. In seventh grade blacks could only run for secretary-treasurer, and in sixth grade only for reporter.
There were no assigned positions for students of other races and no mention of students who are mixed race.
The policy, a holdover from late 1960s desegregation orders, is one of several school district policies that smack of Jim Crow, including crowning separate black and white homecoming and prom queens in high school.
After a story ran on ABCNews.com and repeated calls to the school board and administrators, Nettleton superintendent Russell Taylor issued a statement revoking the policy.
"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," read the statement.
"[T]he 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," read the statement.
The middle school election rules,were brought to the public's attention when the mother of a mixed race sixth grader went online to complain that her daughter could not run for reporter because she wasn't black.
Brandy Springer's daughter, a sixth grader of mixed white and Native American heritage said the 12-year-old girl came home distraught that she would not be allowed to run for reporter-–a position slated only for black students.
Springer, who recently moved to Mississippi from Florida, has another son of mixed white and Native American heritage and two younger children, who are mixed white and African American, and said she was shocked by the policy.
"The principal told me this was court-ordered in 1969. I just kept saying, 'I don't think you're executing the order the way it was intended.' To me this is the definition of segregation. If you're black you can never be class president," she said.
Springer said one administrator told her students of mixed heritage had to run in the race designation of their mothers, because "minority fathers usually weren't in the home anyway."
Another teacher, she said, told her mixed race students simply were not permitted to run for office.
The school's principal who is black and the district superintendent who is white would not comment for this story.
Two of the school's four administrators are black. One of the school board's five members is black, the others are white.
More than 70 percent of the district's students are white.
A source who works for the school district but requested anonymity because she feared reprisals for talking to the media said the board would likely reverse the policy today as a result of national media attention.
The source said the policy was a reflection of the district's deep-seated "racism" and not simply a misguided attempt to ensure black students were included in student government.
"I don't think they were trying to do the right thing," said the source. "They were doing it to try to keep Caucasians in the upper level and minorities in the lower level. I don't think they were doing it just to try to give minorities a part. If that was the case they wouldn't bar blacks from being president."
"It is still racist. It's just black and white. Where do Asians and Hispanics fit it?"
The source said only a handful of teachers in the district near the state's border with Alabama were black, the high school cheerleading team was exclusively white and black students were disproportionately punished for violations of school rules.
A document obtained by ABC News indicates that at the district's high school, both a black and white homecoming queen are crowned. "That's because there are some people who still believe a black girl can't represent the school," said the source.
There was no mention in Taylor's statement today about ending the practice of crowning black and white queens.
Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the Mississippi branch of the ACLU, said there are "certain small pockets of the state where there continue to be majority white school populations where remnants of Jim Crow remain on the books. Some school continue to have separate proms and homecoming courts. They've never been challenged or forced to become more equitable."