Category: Education

Lynching Memorial Opens in Montgomery

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the first memorial in America dedicated to remembering victims of lynchings and other racial violence, opens Thursday in Montgomery. The Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based legal advocacy group that has developed the memorial and a museum, is expecting thousands of visitors this weekend to the memorial, the museum and a slate of events set around the opening. Events include a summit, during which national figures such as former Vice President Al Gore will speak, and a Friday night concert. Read more.

Birmingham Students See Connection With Holocaust: ‘I Thought About How They Want to Build a Border and Kick Us Out’

High schoolers from five Birmingham City Schools arrived at Temple Emanu-el on Thursday to present artwork that interpreted their studies of the Holocaust.

The event, the culmination of a six-week program of art and social studies launched by Violins of Hope, included a day of seminars, guest speakers and a musical concert played on violins once played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust.

Violins of Hope is a national organization founded by Amnon Weinstein. Weinstein, a renowned violin maker, began restoring violins that Jewish musicians were forced to play while captive in the Nazi concentration camps. Amid death and despair, the song of those violins was often the last thing Jewish victims heard before they were killed in the gas chambers. Weinstein, decided to seek out and restore those instruments as a way to honor those who died.

The violins were in Birmingham for a series of events last week, including the session with the Birmingham students at Temple Emanu-el.
“This is such a deep topic for me, being African American, and for other groups going through struggles every day, so I knew there was a lot that I could work with,” one Huffman High School student said. Read more.

Let’s Try This Again: JefCoEd Superintendent Craig Pouncey Applies Once More for State Superintendent Job

Dr. Craig Pouncey does not easily take “no” for an answer.

The superintendent of the Jefferson County Schools has again applied for the vacant position of state superintendent, barely a year and a half after narrowly losing an election to the job by the Alabama State Board of Education. During that process, he become the subject of a smear campaign he contends involved a board member and a lawyer on the department’s staff. Read more.

Amid Immigration Controversy, More Hispanic Students Arrive in Alabama Classrooms

Lipscomb Elementary School, tucked away on a quiet neighborhood street, does not draw a lot of attention to itself. Its enrollment numbers, however, show a dramatic story of Alabama’s growing Hispanic population.

The school in the Jefferson County school system is a plain red-brick complex near Bessemer, Birmingham and Brighton and Midfield. It serves grades K-5, and is a Title I school. That means most of its students are from low-income families and need additional resources, primarily in math and English, so they can learn on the same level as their better-off counterparts elsewhere in the system.

Fifteen years ago, Lipscomb had 188 students, most of them black, with a handful of whites. Today it has 254 students, and the enrollment is almost evenly split among Hispanics and blacks. Most of the Hispanic students are U.S.-born, mostly of Mexican heritage, and about 80 of them are taking English as a Second Language classes.

Reflecting the growing Hispanic presence in its classrooms and hallways, Lipscomb held Hispanic heritage month from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 last year. During that month, the children danced and sampled food prepared by parents of some of their fellow students; each classroom did research on a Spanish-speaking country south of the border.

Lipscomb recently observed Black History Month, and principal Reta Hayes says its chief lesson was “that even though we may be all of different cultures, and (though) we may be of different colors overall, we are still one big happy family.”

Different cultures and colors have been a growing fact of life in Alabama public schools in recent decades. Enrollment figures from the state Department of Education for the current academic year show nearly 727,000 students in K-12, a decline of 11 percent over last year due to a drop in both white and black enrollment. Statewide Hispanic/Latino numbers, however, showed an increase, rising 6 percent over last year to total 57,817, or about 8 percent of the total K-12 enrollment. In 2000-01, the K-12 Hispanic total was 9,541, or about 16 percent of the current figure.

Read more.

The End: Gardendale Drops Fight to Form Its Own School System

The city of Gardendale has waved the white flag.

City leaders have decided not to appeal a ruling by the 11th U.S. District Court of Appeals that denied their effort to break away from the Jefferson County Schools and form their own municipal school system.

The end to the four-year battle came when Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland, one of the original proponents of the system, and Gardendale Board of Education President Michael Hogue notified JefCoEd by letter Wednesday that they were not going to continue the fight for a separate school system.

“We received a letter late this afternoon from Mayor Hogeland and President Hogue that notified the Jefferson County Board of Education that they intend to submit to the council their notification that they will not pursue an appeal,” JefCoEd Superintendent Craig Pouncey said Wednesday night.

Hogeland said there were several factors that led to their decision.

“The biggest determining factor was the ruling we received from the 11th Circuit,” he said. “All of the legal experts truly felt like that was our best chance to win. When that ruling came out so unfavorably to us, a lot of people in town felt like, ‘Hey, enough’s enough.’ … These are not anti-tax people; they are pro-Gardendale City Schools (people) who visited the courtroom of (U.S. District Judge Madeline) Haikala when they poured in arm-in-arm with the board and the city. They said, ‘We were with you and we supported this all along, but we’re tired.’” Read more.

Gardendale Resident Files Class-Action Lawsuit Seeking Return of Property Taxes Meant for City School System

A resident of Gardendale has filed a class-action lawsuit against the city and Jefferson County alleging that property taxes are being collected illegally for the city’s efforts to form its own school system.

The suit was filed Friday on behalf of Jay Campbell and others who have paid property taxes in Gardendale since the city school tax began to be collected in 2014. It alleges that the 10 mills of property taxes collected by the city to fund the proposed system are now illegal, since a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the city’s effort to form the system earlier this month.

Alternatively, if the court finds no fault with the Gardendale school tax, the suit asserts that the county’s 8.8-mill property tax for schools has been collected from Gardendale property owners illegally, since Alabama law prohibits double taxation for schools.

The suit asks that the tax revenues collected so far and held in escrow be paid back to taxpayers. Read more.

School Officials Watch for Troubled Students to Avoid School Violence

In the wake of the latest deadly school shooting, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., school officials, law enforcement and parents across the country are asking what can be done to prevent the next one. That’s true in Alabama and Birmingham, as elsewhere.

In Alabama, there isn’t one standard set of practices used by schools to identify and monitor students, like the shooter Nikolas Cruz in Parkland, who might be prone to violence.

“Alabama State Department of Education does not have policies on identifying/monitoring troubled youth in schools,” said Michael Sibley, director of communications for the department. Read more

School Officials Use a Variety of Approaches to Watch for Troubled Students

In the wake of the latest deadly school shooting,  at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., school officials, law enforcement and parents across the country are asking what can be done to prevent the next one.  That’s true in Alabama and Birmingham, as elsewhere.

In Alabama, there isn’t one standard set of practices used by schools to identify and monitor students, like the shooter Nikolas Cruz in Parkland, who might be prone to violence.

“Alabama State Department of Education does not have policies on identifying/monitoring troubled youth in schools,” said Michael Sibley, director of communications for the department.

Read more

Gardendale School Board Explores Cost-Cutting Measures While Debating Next Legal Step

Members of the Gardendale Board of Education met Monday night in special session, getting together for the first time since losing a decision on their efforts to form a separate school system.

The city has been trying for more than four years to break away from the Jefferson County Schools, but their effort has been blocked by federal courts, which agreed with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s argument that there was racial motivation behind the proposed split.

The board Monday approved two steps to save money while awaiting the next move, including trying to negotiate an early termination of the lease for the board’s office suite so it can move into city-owned space. Read more.

Federal Appeals Court Denies Gardendale’s Breakaway From Jefferson County Schools; City Board Says “Fight is Not Over”

Updated – Saying that the move was motivated by discriminatory intentions from the start, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down the city of Gardendale’s attempt to break away from the Jefferson County Schools and form its own municipal system.

In a decision published Tuesday morning by the Atlanta-based court, a three-judge panel found that U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala “committed no clear error in (her) findings of a discriminatory purpose and of impeding the desegregation” of JefCoEd schools, but that Haikala erred when she handed down a ruling that allowed a “partial secession” of the city’s two elementary schools, while allowing the middle and high school to stay under county control.

In a press conference at the Hugo Black U.S. Courthouse in Birmingham, Gardendale officials vowed that they would continue their fight to establish a municipal system.

Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey, on the other hand, was pleased with the decision and said he hoped it would allow his system to move on with projects that have been on hold because of the case. Read more.