A seven-month-old investigation into an accusation that the Biloxi Public School District was racially discriminatory when it closed Nichols Elementary School has ended with the U.S. Department of Education announcing that the complaint has been withdrawn.
"The Biloxi school board has faced some heart-wrenching decisions in the past couple of years, and we've always strived to do what was right for our students and our community," said Board President Kenny Holloway. "This announcement is evidence that we have acted fairly and in the best interests of all involved.
"We appreciate the allegiance that has been expressed for Nichols," he added, "and it is our hope that we will see the population return in east Biloxi, and should that occur, we want to re-open Nichols."
The school district announced in August of last year that the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights was investigating an anonymous complaint that the district was racially discriminatory when it consolidated Nichols and Gorenflo, two predominantly African-American elementary schools in east Biloxi.
At the time, the DOE said that an investigation itself did not mean the complaint had merit. Instead, the DOE said, its Office for Civil Rights would investigate the matter "as a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipient, and other sources, as appropriate."
The school district decided to close Nichols -- along with two other elementary schools and a middle school -- because of a student enrollment that today remains 22 percent below its pre-Katrina level overall, and only about half of its pre-Katrina level in east Biloxi, where Nichols and Gorenflo were less than three-tenths of a mile apart. Gorenflo remained open, school leaders said, because it had more classrooms and could easily accommodate all Nichols students without increasing the student-teacher ratio. Most of the Nichols faculty and staff moved to Gorenflo, as well.
Superintendent Dr. Paul A. Tisdale, who plans to end his 32-year career with Biloxi at the end of the current school year, said he was pleased with the DOE announcement.
"This has been a very emotional issue for some," Tisdale said. "I sincerely hope that we do see a significant student population increase in east Biloxi that warrants consideration to re-open Nichols. What I have found to be most annoying is the accusation that race played a role in the decisions that were made.
"The board has tried to act without fear or favor and to do the right thing for the children of Biloxi and for the taxpayers of Biloxi."
--- To see the letter from the U.S. Department of Educationís Civil Rights office, click here.
--- To see the school district's official response to the original complaint,