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Local groups continue lawsuit against Halifax Commissioners

The lawsuit against the Halifax County Board of Commissioners for not providing a sound basic education to all county students will go on.

EducationNC received an announcement yesterday from the Coalition for Education and Economic Security (CEES) and Halifax County Branch of the NAACP saying they will appeal the dismissal of their case by a superior court judge.

In the letter — entitled “An Open Letter to the Parents, Teachers of School Children in Halifax County, and Public Education Supporters” — representatives of the two groups question the judge’s ruling, particularly where he said he was not convinced that the county commissioners had a responsibility to ensure “that a constitutionally compliant public education system is provided to school children.”

The letter goes on to say:

“From our perspective, if county commissioners can skirt this responsibility, then there is no way to assure that the state constitution can be enforced at the local level. And if it is not enforced by those who take an oath to maintain it, our Constitution becomes empty words. That’s why we are appealing his decision.”

The letter also challenges media portrayals of the case, saying that a merger of the three Halifax school districts is not the purpose of the lawsuit.

“While we do support one county one district as the first step to achieve a more efficient, more equitable, and higher quality education system for all children, it is not what we have asked for in court,” the letter states.

While it is true that the lawsuit doesn’t specifically request a merger, it does go to great lengths to challenge the existence of “three racially identifiable and inadequately funded schools districts.” And during the press conference where the lawsuit was first announced, Rebecca Copeland, chair of CEES and one of the signatories of the letter received by us yesterday, said the following:

“We do not suggest to you that consolidation will answer every question, but what we are telling you it is an essential first step in the right direction.”

Here is the video clip of her statement:

For more background on this lawsuit, read our coverage here, here, here and here. And here is the article on the dismissal.

Below is the full text of the letter sent out this morning.


An Open Letter to the Parents, Teachers of School Children in Halifax County, and Public Education Supporters

Dear neighbors and friends,

No doubt you have heard that the lawsuit we filed against the Halifax County Commissioners seeking an improved educational system for all the public school children in Halifax County was dismissed last month by a judge appointed to hear the case.  We have decided to fight on and today filed an appeal of the judge’s ruling.  Our decision to appeal was reached after deep reflection.   And we feel obligated to share the reasons for our conclusion to appeal with you, with public school teachers and all who are concerned about the value of public education and its impact on our children and the future of Halifax County.

Our case rests squarely on the guarantee in the North Carolina Constitution that each child has a right to a sound basic education.  Halifax County commissioners, who have taken an oath to support and maintain the laws of North Carolina and our state constitution, are, consequently, duty bound to assure each child does, indeed, have access to a sound basic education as promised.  Few would argue that our public school districts fail to deliver on this promise to every child.  So why did the judge dismiss our case?  He said in his ruling that he is not convinced that the county commissioners have any responsibility to ensure that a constitutionally compliant public education system is provided to school children.  From our perspective, if county commissioners can skirt this responsibility, then there is no way to assure that the state constitution can be enforced at the local level.  And if it is not enforced by those who take an oath to maintain it, our Constitution becomes empty words.  That’s why we are appealing his decision.

Some will say that we are running up legal fees that Halifax County tax payers must ultimately shoulder.  And it is true that the commissioners spent over $15,000 defending a school system that is failing the majority of our children.  Keep in mind that it was their decision to go to court to defend the status quo. They had the option to explore a resolution without going to court.  They never did.  Those who are sincerely concerned about the burden on taxpayers from this lawsuit should ask our commissioners why they paid $112,000 for a study to improve public education and put the report on the shelf.  They should ask why the commissioners have not pursued recommendations from their Evergreen Solution Report which could have saved taxpayers over $11,000,000 once implemented.  They should ask the commissioners why they continue to support a sales tax formula that takes money collected from all over the county and directs funds into only two of the three school districts, creating huge funding inequities and forcing residents to subsidize schools that their children are not allowed to attend.

Some in the media have reported that we are asking the courts to force merger of the three school districts on the county commissioners.  While we do support one county one district as the first step to achieve a more efficient, more equitable, and higher quality education system for all children, it is not what we have asked for in court.  We asked the court to order the Board of Commissioners “to develop and implement a plan to remedy the constitutional violations of its present education delivery system and to ensure that every student in Halifax County is provided the opportunity to receive a sound basic education.”    We don’t assume that merger is the only solution.  We are open to any ideas that achieve fairness and quality education for all children.

We know what exists now isn’t working.  It’s high time to consider alternatives.  

Rebecca Copeland, Chair, Coalition for Education and Economic Security (252.813.5952)

David Harvey, President, Halifax County Branch of the NAACP  (252.314.7446)

 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.