A letter from Lincoln Parish School (LPS) Superintendent Mike Milstead to LPSB Employees is currently circulating in screenshots on social media. Based on my readings of local news archives from the late 60s and early 70s, articles from the past decade, legal filings spanning half a century, legislative records, conversations, and experience within the Lincoln Parish School system, I disagree with many aspects of this letter. And I find it disturbing the leader of a school system is unable or unwilling to reckon with oppression within the system, particularly given the legal history of Lincoln Parish Schools. With that in mind:
- Mike Milstead’s contact information is 318-255-1430
- The next meeting of the Lincoln Parish School Board is July 7 at 6:00 pm
According to a notice, only 38 people will be allowed at the meeting due to the Stay-At-Home order, but the meeting will also be on Facebook live. Questions or comments may be emailed before the meeting to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find board members and their contact numbers here: https://www.lincolnschools.org/o/lps/page/board-members–244
In the spirit of full disclosure, I grew up in and live in Lincoln Parish and am a graduate of the Lincoln Parish School system – after transferring from the Grambling laboratory school Alma J. Brown, I attended Lincoln Parish schools from October of my third grade year through my 12th grade year, 1991-2001 – as well as Louisiana Tech University which operates its own K-8 laboratory school (with some funding and transportation contributions from the Lincoln Parish School Board), A.E. Phillips, on its campus in Lincoln Parish. Additionally, I have generations of family members who either went through or intentionally avoided the Lincoln Parish school system, including relatives currently attending Lincoln Parish schools. Now on to the facts.
FROM: Mike Milstead
TO: LPSB Employees
In light of recent events in our country, I want to make sure we are all clear on the expectations of the Lincoln Parish School system. It is sad to see the discord our nation is presently experiencing. I understand that we as individuals all have concerns about the direction our nation is headed. As a rule, I do not believe that racism is systemic in our parish and especially in our school system. That, however, does not eliminate our responsibility of being sensitive to legitimate concerns about the possibility that racism from time to time can rear its ugly “head.” Racism is a problem of the inner man that cannot and will not be cured simply by passing a law or trying to eliminate the storied history of our country. That actually ensures the cultivation of racism – a horrible mistake. When mistakes are made related to race in our country or any problem that we might face, our goal should be to admit our errors, face, the facts of them, and engage in meaningful conversations about how we can affect a change of the inner man where racism might lurk.
As we move forward in the coming school year, it would be a legitimate exercise for us as educators to hold those conversations within our faculties that might become a starting point for addressing the issue of racism where we might witness it. I have found the best place to begin correcting errors of society is self-examination, looking within to determine if I am part of the problem and determining that I can become part of the solution. Racism is a learned concept. Let us do our part to reverse that mental “wheeltrack” as it may occur in ourselves and families first and then as it might be expressed by others including co-workers or students. No one need get on a self-righteous “high horse” and lecture others about their perceived errors, but we can have a conversation where appropriate without condemnation, which might result in the inner change that is necessary to facilitate real change. I would encourage each of you when appropriate to not shy away from that conversation.
Jesus is the perfect embodiment of this mental attitude. He avoided no issue. He addressed everything head-on. He was not a revolutionary. He did not become involved in the dismantling of elements of society. He did not condemn others. He always spoke the truth. He changed human history forever.
Some Background on Lincoln Parish & Lincoln parish Schools
In March 2020, I wrote the following for a social policy course in my master’s of social work program. (A note: my instructor has a PhD in social work as well as a JD – a law degree. Also I got an A on everything.)
Analysis of the Original Consent Decree in United States of America v. Lincoln Parish School Board
On June 8, 1966, the federal government filed a complaint to desegregate schools operated by the Lincoln Parish School Board. United States of America v. Lincoln Parish School Board aimed to remedy civil rights violations and protect local children from discrimination in the education system. First, a desegregation plan and consent decree based on attendance zones was adopted August 1, 1969, and modified August 5, 1970, after the parish’s “freedom of choice” plan failed to be an effective desegregation plan. The 1970 decree ordered the district to:
- Assign staff so that staff composition did not indicate schools being for a specific race of students, and to be hired, promoted, paid, disciplined, and dismissed without regard to race
- Allow students to transfer from schools where they were in the racial majority to schools where they were in the minority and be given priority and transportation
- Reexamine bus routes/assignments to provide transportation for all eligible students
- Conduct school construction, site selection, and consolidation in a way that prevented re-segregation
- Grant student transfers on a non-discriminatory basis but not where the effect would reduce desegregation
- Not exclude any student from classroom, non-classroom, or extracurricular activities based on race, color, or national origin
- Act to protect student, teachers, and staff from harassment, threats, and other actions that interfered with the enforcement of the order
- Establish a biracial advisory committee on the board responsible for discussing ways to achieve “interracial harmony and understanding” (Consent Decree, 1970)
- Report to the court twice a year regarding racial composition of student and teacher populations and implementation of the order
After two more decrees and 40 years of reporting, the Court met with all parties (including Louisiana Tech University and Grambling State University who ran the lab schools since they were included in an amended complaint in 1980) in 2009 to determine what actions were left to resolve the case. The Court ordered the Department of Justice to conduct a unitary status review that found the district had satisfied its “obligations in the areas of facilities and extracurricular activities” but had “not met its affirmative burden of establishing compliance in the areas of student assignment, faculty, and transportation” (Status Report, 2011). They found three of four elementary schools were racially identifiable, both alternative schools were “overwhelmingly black”, faculty assignments were racially identifiable, and transportation zones created excessive burdens on Black students (2011). In 2013, the United States also notified the school board it had identified racial disparities in homeroom assignments at all four elementary schools in Ruston (Supplemental Consent Order, 2015). The 2011 Status Report was followed by reorganization of the schools, two more consent decrees, and the Court granting the School Board (but not the laboratory schools) unitary status in 2017 (Shilleh, 2017). Given the length of the suit, obligations not met, and subsequent legal actions necessary, the strategy could be effective, but the original decree was not. Black students were legally allowed to go to whatever school they wanted, but we still had schools and classrooms that were clearly racially identifiable for 40 years. Additionally, a separate private school, Cedar Creek School, was founded in 1970 in response to desegregation plans, and that school is racially identifiable as 93% white as of the 2017-2018 school year while the district is just under 50% white (Cedar Creek School, n.d.; National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.; Superseding Consent Order, 2012).
More on Lincoln Parish, schools, and race
In 2016, Louisiana Tech University, and the Justice Department “reached a settlement agreement with Louisiana Tech University to ensure that black students have access to the high-quality education programs” at its laboratory school A.E. Phillips. Among the requirement that A.E. Phillips must meet to reach unitary status, by the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year: They must increase the number of Black students by making sure each entering kindergarten class is within 20 percentage points of the Black student percentage of kindergartners in Lincoln Parish School Board schools beginning with the entering 2016-2017 class onward. Why? The 2016 K-8 enrollment for Lincoln Parish School Board Schools was 49.7% Black compared to A.E. Phillips which was 21.0% Black. A.E. Phillips is historically and currently disproportionately white – and the consent decree actually says that.
That 2016 consent decree also required A.E. Phillips to recruit Black faculty because for the 2016-2017 school year they only had 2 Black faculty who represented 7.1% of the total AEP faculty. This compared to 11.3% of LPSB faculty who were Black. Again, these faculty numbers in both systems are to teach in a parish in which student enrollment is just under 50% Black.
Just a few fast Lincoln Parish facts
- In 2017, Lincoln Parish was 53.9% white, 40.8% Black, 0.3% Native American, 1.6% Asian, and 0.3% Hispanic (of any race). Yet 56.9% of people in Lincoln Parish living in poverty were Black, 32.1% were white, 3.91% were Hispanic, 2.23% were Asian, .216% were Native American. Black, Hispanic, and Asian people in Lincoln Parish were (are) disproportionately in poverty compared to their percentage of the population.
- We have a venue in Ruston, the Lincoln Parish seat, in 2020 named the Dixie Theater. Dixie, as in the slave states/Confederacy.
- A group (Sons & Daughters of Confederate Veterans?) marches in Ruston’s sponsored parades – including the big summer “tourist attraction” event, the Louisiana Peach Festival – carrying Confederate flags at least once a year.
- Students and faculty at Louisiana Tech had to petition the administration for the reinstatement and support of an adjunct history teacher who was teaching about racism
- There are umpteen buildings, roadways, athletic structures, professorships, and research centers on Louisiana Tech’s campus named by and after white men prominent in the segregated history of Louisiana Tech, Lincoln Parish, and Louisiana.
- One example: statue of State Rep. George Madden Lomax stands on campus and Lomax Drive is a roadway on campus. Lomax sponsored the bill, Act No 68 of 1894, to establish Louisiana Tech University. Section 1 of the bill began, “That an industrial Institute and College is hereby established for the education of white children of the State of Louisiana…” and section 5 reiterated the “for the education of white children” phrase. [Italics mine]
- Another: the Joe D. Waggonner Center for Bipartisan Politics and Public Policy which was named after a member of the Louisiana State Board of Education and U.S. Representative who, as a member of the Education Board in 1961, called for residents to partner with local and federal law enforcement to maintain segregation and create private school co-ops in response to integration, and as a US. Representative sponsored two anti-busing bills. Waggonner was a conservative Southern Democrat and “militant segregationist” who “pointed with pride to the fact that the Negro vote in Shreveport went solidly against him.” He voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
- That Facebook group exists. If you’re from the area, you know the one.
- Data from the Louisiana Department of Health Coronavirus dashboard lists 350 cases for Lincoln Parish as of 7/6/2020. Of those cases, 155 (44.3%) people are Black, 50 (14.3%) are white, 85 (24.3%) are classified as “other” and 60 (17.1%) unknown. The Lincoln Parish population in 2018 was 40.8% Black, 55.7% white and 3.4% “other.” This means Black people and people of color are about 44.1% of the parish population and at least 67.6% of COVID-19 cases, while if we attributed the entirety of the “unknown” cases to the white demographic, that demographic would be about 55.7% of the parish population and 31.4% of parish COVID-19 cases. This means Black people in Lincoln Parish are about 2-6 times more likely to have reported coronavirus cases than white residents, “other” residents are about 12-47 times more likely to have reported coronavirus cases than white residents,and POC overall are 4-9 times more likely to have reported cases of coronavirus than white people in Lincoln Parish.