Federal Lawsuit Alleges Race Discrimination

A coalition of local community members, including the Harnett County Branch of the NAACP and Citizens for Harnett Educational Fairness (CHEF), has filed a federal civil rights complaint with the United States Department of Education against the Harnett County Board of Education.

The complaint charges the board with intentional race discrimination for rejecting proposed school assignment plans that would have alleviated the severe racial segregation, and also alleges that these actions disproportionately and adversely impact the district’s African American children. The complaint seeks to vindicate the right of all Harnett County’s schoolchildren to equal access to educational opportunity.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Under federal law, the board cannot deny students equal access to educational resources because on their race.

Despite this duty, the lawsuit alleges the school board has advanced a middle school redistricting plan that intentionally ignores racial segregation at Dunn Middle School. The suit alleges racial segregation also exists at Dunn Middle’s feeder schools, Harnett Primary and Wayne Avenue Elementary. “By isolating many African American students in one segregated middle school, the board provides schoolchildren in the Dunn area with less than equal access to educational opportunities,” the complaint alleges.

“Existing racial segregation in Harnett County’s school system has contributed to declining student achievement in Dunn area schools and made the task of retaining teachers in these schools increasingly difficult. The board’s ongoing failure to address this growing racial segregation will allow these trends to worsen, meaning more parents will join those already being told that their children are attending the county’s “bad” schools,” according to a press release. 

The Harnett Branch of the NAACP and CHEF are represented in the matter by the Center for Civil Rights.