Was That Wrong? Should We Not Have Done That?

More great moments in American education: Nettleton Middle School in Nettleton, Mississippi had an official, written policy of racial segregation of its student government, including a chart that explained which positions (president, vice-president, secretary/treasurer, and reporter) could be held by whites and blacks in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. The highest office to which blacks could aspire was 8th-grade vice-president. [Edit: some news reports suggest that the school alternated years, so students were eligible for different offices depending on race different years.]

The story, broken by a blogger, has hit the mass media. In response, School Superintendent Russel Taylor has posted an awfully tepid statement.

"Student elections have not yet been held at Nettleton Middle School for the 2010-2011 school term. The processes and procedures for student elections are under review. We are reviewing the origin of these processes, historical applications, compliance issues, as well as current implications
and ramifications. A statement will be released when review of these processes is complete."

Yeah, you do that review, Russel.

Wouldn't you love to be in the room when the people who enacted this policy, or turned it into a chart, or distributed it, explain why they thought it was legal or appropriate?

Public education includes many brilliant, dedicated, and skilled teachers and administrators, but also a certain number of people who are so knuckle-draggingly stupid, or so woefully ignorant, that they are able to convince themselves it is appropriate to publish a chart dictating the acceptable race of student government leaders. The size of that category is subject to dispute. The process of weeding out the morons and freaks who create situations like this is stymied by politically powerful public employee unions that frequently make it nearly impossible to fire freaks and morons, or even rate them.

Edited to add: Hey, they've got racially divided homecoming courts as well.

Edit two: they changed 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. 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


Russell Taylor

To which I respond: seriously? They did this for 30 years, and nobody said anything? It never occurred to anyone that it was patently illegal? Seriously?

Maybe they can get Jimmy Carter to come supervise the next election.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    Or of racially mixed parentage, as the person discussed at that blog link found out.

    To be clear, I suspect this is a case of attempted forced diversity rather than a racist "limit the blacks in office" thing. It's still jaw-droppingly ignorant and foolish.

  2. Richard Hershberger says

    Do teachers unions represent administrators? I could be wrong, but I don't think so. It would require some impressive contortions to not blame this on the administration.

  3. says

    Wouldn’t you love to be in the room when the people who enacted this policy, or turned it into a chart, or distributed it, explain why they thought it was legal or appropriate?

    I'll bet a devalued American dollar the explanation is something like "well, um, that's way it was at university, and our hiring practices are de facto setup that way so … why not?"

  4. Dave (ND) says

    Not that I agree with either practice, but how is this significantly different than gerrymandered city council districts?

  5. says

    Funny, Dave, I just got finished answering you on that elsewhere.

    Gerrymandered districts do not restrict the ethnicity of candidates. People may stand for election, and voters may vote for them, regardless of race. Gerrymandering and the preferences of the gerrymandered electorate may make a particular result more likely, but that's not the same as saying that as a matter of law people are excluded from the office based on race.

    It's the difference between disparate impact analysis and de jure restriction analysis.

    Gerrymandering would be a better analogy if the school said "this year only people on sports team X or who take school bus Y can vote for vice-president."

    Not that I agree with gerrymandering either.

  6. Dave (ND) says

    I guess my real point is that we should be as outraged by gerrymandering as we are with this.

  7. says

    @Dave and Ken: the first thing that came to mind was gerrymandering after I read the post. It's nice to see that my mental "bloviating" (yes, that one's for you, Richard H.) is sometimes capable of rising to the level of discourse here :-)

    At Justice O'Connor can sleep soundly at night, knowing there aren't any people getting killed by open car doors in this gerrymandering case :-)

    (From _Shaw v. Reno_: a group of white North Carolina voters challenged the creation of two North Carolina majority-minority districts, which had the approval of the attorney general. One of the districts at issue had the shape of a "bug splattered on a windshield." The other district was so thin in parts that one legislator remarked, "If you drove down the interstate with both car doors open, you'd kill most of the people in the district.")

  8. CTrees says

    You know… In my high school (this is Charleston area, South Carolina, again), our prom kings and queens were like this. Through the entire history of the school, there was never a mixed couple, and it altered every year. White one year, black the next. Yeah, too big a sample size to possibly be the result of honest voting.

    Everyone thought it was either funny or moderately inappropriate, if they thought about it at all. Looking back on it, I really should've been more offended (but hey, I was a track star, not a football star, so there was no chance I'd be eligible, anyway…).

  9. Imaginary Lawyer says

    Oh, it's better than being "screwed" if you're biracial:

    Brandy is Italian and Dondi is African-American. Her oldest daughter is white, and her youngest two kids are biracial. When she asked what category they would fall in, she was told, to "go by the mother’s race b/c with minorities the father isn’t generally in the home.”

  10. says

    We let morons like this educate our children.

    Sometimes I wonder why our civilization hasn't already collapsed.

  11. says

    SPQR, who says it hasn't?

    Did you ever see the Twilight Zone episode where the robber finds himself in an increasingly banal and unsatisfying Heaven, only to realize that it is actually Hell?

  12. Ming the Merciless Siamese Cat says

    "Public education includes many brilliant, dedicated, and skilled teachers and administrators. . . ."

    I call bullshitl.

  13. says

    Mandating that a certain percentage of employees be of a certain ethnicity is so dumb that it must have been thought up by the federal government.

  14. Rich Rostrom says

    ZIPskinny sez this area of Mississippi is 75% white.

    This scheme was adopted, almost certainly, to ensure that black students got to hold some of the student government offices.

    "Gerrymandered districts do not restrict the ethnicity of candidates."

    No, but as a matter of law (the Voting Rights Act) states and localities are required to create "majority-minority" districts, which are expected to elect minority officeholders. The districts are created specifically to enable the election of minorities to office.

    The Nettleton deal is only slightly more explicit. I suspect it originated as a deal to satisfy all segments of the community, and everyone was reasonably satisfied.

    This is, after all, grade-school student government, so it's not as though anyone had any real stake.

  15. bw says

    Several high schools in Cleveland had a policy of alternating between white and black annual homecoming queens during the period they were under Battisti's desegregation/bussing order. Bussing was done on a three year rotation – half a neighborhood would get to attend their neighborhood school for three years while the other half were bussed across town, then the arrangement was reversed for the following three years. The homecoming policy was instituted so the opportunity to win as homecoming queen (an entirely write-in election) was not dependent on which three year rotation one spent in high school.

    This was done under the watchful supervision of a federal judge.