County commissioners express concern over diversity at Southeast school

Just like Memphis City Schools, the Shelby County School District is trying to get back to neighborhood schools, eliminating the cost of bussing students. But there are concerns doing that could cause deeper racial divides.

Shelby County school leaders see am empty Schnuck's store in southeast Shelby County as their next middle school; a way to eliminate overcrowding and the use of portable classrooms. But Wednesday, some County Commissioners said they saw it as a way to segregate students.

"You have students pulled out of a multi-racial environment and put in that Southeast," said Commissioner Walter Bailey.

Bailey, Deidre Malone, and activist Lasimba Gray all raised concerns the proposed middle school and the new Southeast High School will be predominately black because of where they're located, and the way attendance boundaries are drawn.

"If that school is populated demographically, predominantly, overwhelming minority, we are doing ourselves a disservice to our system," Bailey said.

There was also criticism that the Shelby County School Board is all white, after the defeat of its only black member.

"You don't have to be a minority to be sensitive to them," Malone said. "I agree with you, but until you've walked in my shoes, you don't know it, you don't feel it."

Superintendent Bobby Webb stood his ground, saying there's no plan to segregate schools. He said it just happens the areas around those schools are mostly full of minorities.

"We always take into consideration the racial diversity," Webb said, "and try to include as much as we can in keeping with the neighborhood concept without having to bus children by a school just to change the diversity."

Webb pointed out diversity has increased in county schools over the last ten years. In fact, some Shelby County schools used to be 90% white. That figure has dropped to about 60%, reflecting the make-up of the county's population.

The district does NOT need the permission of commissioners to build either school.