IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Miss. school drops race-based rules for student elections

A page from the original memo sent home with children.
A page from the original memo sent home with children.NBC News
/ Source: NBC, and news services

Following an uproar over a policy it said was designed 30 years ago to achieve racial equality, a school district board in a Mississippi town on Friday scrapped a system of student elections where race determined whether a candidate could run for some class positions, including president.

The rules sparked an outcry after Brandy Springer, a mother of four mixed-race children in Nettleton, Miss., complained that her 12-year-old daughter couldn't run for class reporter because she wasn't the right race.

Springer contacted an advocacy group for mixed-race families and the NAACP called for a Justice Department investigation — not surprising in a state with a history of racial tension dating to the Jim Crow era.

By Friday afternoon, Superintendent Russell Taylor posted a statement on the school's website, saying the policy had been in place for 30 years, dating back to a time when school districts across Mississippi came under close scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department over desegregation.

"It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body," the statement said. "It is our hope and desire that these practices and procedures are no longer needed."

"Therefore, beginning immediately, student elections at Nettleton School District will no longer have a classification of ethnicity," it added. "It is our intent that each student has equal opportunity to seek election for any student office."

Springer, who moved to Nettleton from Florida in April, said her daughter was told the office of sixth-grade class reporter at Nettleton Middle School was available only to black students this year.

Her anger grew when she saw school election guidelines that allowed only whites to run for class president this year. In alternating years, the positions would be reversed so blacks could run for president and whites could hold other positions, district officials said.

Even if the policy is an attempt to ensure black and white participation, Springer said diversity is no longer a black and white issue, with a growing number of mixed-race children, Hispanics and other ethnicities attending school together.

'Ethnic diversity' now embraced, school says
The school agreed, saying it the statement that it "acknowledges and embraces the fact that we are growing in ethnic diversity and that the classifications of Caucasian and African-American no longer reflect our entire student body."

Springer is white. Her two older children, including the sixth grader, are half Native American. Her two younger children have a black father.

"How are they supposed to be classified?" she asked.

"My main concern is that the object of school is to prepare people for life. An employer could never do this: Advertise a position for a white man only or a black man only," she said. "This is not a lesson we want to teach."

Springer told on Friday she was "shocked" when she first saw the memo, and has since moved her family to nearby Plantersville, Miss.

The changes in school policy may have come too late for Springer. Springer said she moved to another school district last week and pulled her kids from Nettleton Middle School.

School administrators did not immediately respond to messages seeking further comment left Friday by The Associated Press.

Nettleton is a town of about 2,000 people with a population that is about 66 percent white and 32 percent black.

Springer's plight demonstrates the complexities faced not only by interracial families, but by school officials trying to achieve racial equality in a state known for tensions between blacks and whites. The school district also manipulated prom and homecoming elections so that the outcome is an equal division of blacks and whites.

Springer and others worried that could leave out Hispanics, Asians or any other student from another race or ethnicity, Springer said.

Springer's story spread rapidly on the Internet after she contacted a website for mixed families — .

Suzy Richardson, the website's founder and the mother of four mixed-race children, said she and her husband have "raised our children to tell them they are black and white. They're half of me and half of dad."

Wrong message on race, blogger says "It really made me upset (to hear Springer's story). The message that were sending to kids is that they have to choose one side of who they are," she said. "The message that we're sending our children is that we do things based on race."

According to an excerpt from the school's handbook, homecoming positions are also divided by race — black and white, with no mention of other races.

“I have always taught my children not to see race,” Springer told Richardson on her blog. “This is so disgusting to me.”

Before the school announced it was getting rid of the policy, Charles Hampton, a vice president of the Mississippi NAACP, said he would ask the U.S. Justice Department to investigate.

"That's something that shouldn't be happening anywhere in America, but we still have pockets of it happening at certain schools," Hampton said. "The local community needs to get involved and demand they change the policy."

Springer said her youngest daughter was called a derogatory name when the family first moved to the town and that her family has been on the receiving end of racially charged comments, but that those incidents had been relatively isolated.

"Even if they changed this policy, there's the fact that officials at this school have this attitude that they have let it go all this time, which means that apparently they have thought it was OK," Springer said before the policy reversal. "I can't let my children be in a school district like that."

Springer said the sense in the town had been to let sleeping dogs lie.

"The talk around the town is that this is the way it is, that's just the way it is and nobody knows any better, nobody wants any better and that's why nobody's challenged it," Springer said prior to the change.