INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - The School District of Indian River County has been under a court-imposed desegregation order since 1967. Federal courts have stated that the district is not yet in full compliance.
When the district went to court seeking a declaration of “partial unitary status,” a conclusion that some aspects of the desegregation order have been adequately complied with, the court ordered mediation, which led to the creation of a School Equity Committee to monitor compliance. That committee has now had its first two meetings.
Former School Board candidate Merchon Green was selected as the Chairperson of that committee, for a period of one year. Ms. Green is a lifelong resident of Indian River County and a successful product of the county school system. Her education led to academic scholarships at Florida State University and Southern University Law School.
According to Ms. Green, the goal of the committee is to monitor the district’s compliance with the desegregation order, while also making recommendations to hasten that compliance.
The areas the district sought to get removed from federal oversight include diversity of support staff and administration, and facilities serving black communities.
“The Equity Committee is going through the court document and requesting records for each section,” Ms. Green told Hometown News. “We discuss what we feel meeting these sections looks like. For example, how do we see if they’re trying to employ one black teacher per school? So we’re requesting recruiting records, recruiting schedules, who’s on the recruiting team, how many letters have they sent out to black applicants, these type of things. That’s what the Equity Committee does. They monitor each section, request records, go through the sections together to see if the efforts are being made.”
“Then, at the end of this year, we’ll make suggestions to the board. We only have advisory authority. The board would still have to approve what we suggest.”
Asked if there are any areas where she feels the district has done a good job complying, Ms. Green said “I guess facilities,” referring to the schools serving black students. But then she quickly added “We’ve got to stop praising effort. How can you praise effort if your efforts aren’t working? Why are you taking the same measures for the last 52 years? It’s time to change. How is it that the rest of the nation can get up to par, but we can’t?”
One big area the committee is examining is the achievement gap between white and black students. Another is the recruitment and retention of black teachers.
“I knew three people that left Storm Grove Middle School in one week, and they all went to Ft. Pierce, and they were black teachers,” Ms. Green said. “When they say they’re having a hard time recruiting black teachers, well, they’re not even retaining the ones they have.”
Regarding her occasionally tense relationship with some members of the school board, Ms. Green said “Despite how any of them feel about me, this committee is not about me. They don’t have to like me. It’s not about the NAACP. It’s about these students who are suffering. It is about the black students who are the subject of this litigation, and who are in school.”
“My term as Chairperson is one year. The committee will exist for three years, and at the end of the three years, they’ll evaluate to see if the district has met its standards. If they’ve got “unitary status,” i.e. compliance, the committee will exist for two more years to monitor the district, so a total of five years.”
“If they have not gotten full unitary status at the end of the three years, then I think the committee will continue to exist until they get unitary status.”
Ms. Green said there was already some disagreement between committee members and the school district regarding when meetings would be best held to encourage public attendance. Ms. Green said the committee can only be successful if the community attends meetings and participates.
“They proposed we have the meetings at 10 a.m. or 3 p.m. I said this committee is for the community too. If we want people to attend these committee meetings, we need to have it after hours.”
“I encourage the community to get involved. We plan to share the information that we get and we would like for the community to give their input and to help us monitor, and to be vocal at school board meetings. This affects our entire community, not just the black community. Anyone who has kids in school in Indian River County or buys real estate in Indian River County is affected. We need to work together to make sure the standards are met and all our kids are educated equally.”
The next meeting of the School Equity Committee is March 13 at 5:30 p.m. Meetings are at the School District, 6500 57th St., Vero Beach, in the same room as School Board meetings.
You can view documents related to the committee, and hear audio of meetings, at https://indianriverschools.org/district-downloads/category/106-equity-committee.