Parents are suing an Alabama school district, claiming a program allowing "parent choice" for their children's classmates and teachers is segregation.
An Alabama public school district accused of re-segregating students along racial lines is being sued in federal court by parents and a former teacher who allege the board created "racially engineered" learning environments.
The Troy City Board of Education as well as five school board members and two school administrators are named in the suit. It alleges that a 2008 program allowing "parent choice" in selecting their children's pupils and teachers is discriminatory.
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In the complaint, lead plaintiff John Johnson claims his son's school quickly became divided between either all-black or all-white classes at Troy Elementary School.
The complaint states: "In a few instances the Troy City School District disregarded requests by Caucasian parents to place their child with African-American teachers."
The court has not decided whether the school intentionally segregated the students.
Despite the fact that African-American teachers only account for 22 percent of the district's entire teacher pool in 2009-2010, they ended up teaching 80 percent of the exclusively African-American classes that year, according to the complaint.
In the 2012-2013 academic year, there were 12 all-African-American classes. But there was only one such classroom when the parent choice policy went into effect in 2008-2009, parents allege.
"They even have racially segregated kindergarten classes," said civil-rights attorney Eric Hutchins, who filed the suit on behalf of concerned parents and teachers. "This is like going back to the 1950s. You can't tell me you have standardized tests to base putting kindergarteners in all-black classes."
Dejerilyn King Henderson, a retired African-American teacher from Troy Elementary School, said the policy meant her last three years as a first-grade teacher were spent in front of children of the same race.
"I approached the administration about it several times, and each time I was told they were not going to place any Caucasian children in my classroom," Henderson told MSN News, adding there were about 18 kids in each class.
The district's school system serves 2,087 students, of which 62 percent are African-American and 32 percent, Caucasian.
Hutchins alleges there were situations in which a white family wanted to have their child integrated with a black classroom, but their choice was "usurped" by administrators.
Dona Matthews, an educational psychologist and founding director of the Center for Gifted Studies and Education at New York's Hunter College, said diversity in the classroom is healthy for childhood development.
"Generally speaking, most kids benefit from diversity and inclusion," she said. "The more kids experience different points of views and ways of being, the better equipped they will be as adults to thrive in an increasingly diverse world."
Neither the Troy City Board of Education nor the board's superintendent, Lee Hicks, responded to a request for comment.
However, Hicks told an Alabama CBS affiliate station that the policy isn't about race, but parental choice.
"Parents want to feel like their students are with some of their friends," Hicks said. "But again, this is not just for one group or another group. This is open to all parents."
Henderson said a demonstration by parents opposing the district's policy will be held in front of Troy Elementary on Monday morning.
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