Vote could nix racial language

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When Alabama residents go to the polls Nov. 6, they will have the opportunity to rid the state constitution of Jim Crow-era language, but the state’s education association claims it would inadvertently remove the right for all children to receive free public education.

This amendment, labeled amendment four on the state ballot and called the Alabama Segre-gation Reference Ban Amend-ment, will remove racial language added during the Jim Crow era, specifically pertaining to school segregation and the poll tax.

The change would affect section 256 of the Alabama Constitution where it reads:

“Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.”

The Alabama Education Association said in its publication, Alabama School Journal, that while the amendment would remove racist language on segregation in schools, it also eliminates constitutional language guaranteeing that the state will “establish, organize and maintain a liberal system of public schools for the benefit of the children.”

AEA said in its publication that amendment four would have the perverse effect of reinstating a former constitutional provision eliminating the state’s duty to educate all of the children of the state.

AEA has called the amendment “a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and all education employees should vote it down.”

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart said the Association of School Superintendents of Alabama is still analyzing the amendment, but has his own stance on the measure.

“This is purely my opinion, but on the surface, any action to remove the vestiges of past discrimination would, I think, help to eliminate many of the stereotypes about Alabama and its people,” he said. “However, this amendment creates quite a conundrum. If you accept AEA’s interpretation, then the amendment will negate a student’s right to a public education. I know they are encouraging their membership to vote ‘no.’ To the nation, a ‘no’ vote could signal that Alabama has not moved past the era of segregation and play into many of those stereotypes.

“My personal belief is that the language of Alabama’s Constitution has already been overturned by federal decree, and I don’t believe passage of the amendment would endanger our obligation to provide a quality education for our young people,” he said. “In addition, passage may very well symbolize Alabama’s growth and remove a black eye from a very dark era in our history.”