EBR School Board Votes To Advance Blatantly Racist Redistricting Map
BATON ROUGE, La. – In a stunning act of defiance in front of a room full of parents, educators, and activists, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board voted Thursday night along strikingly racial lines to advance a redistricting map for the EBR Parish School System that would leave the number of board members unchanged at nine and would be drawn in such a way that leaves only three likely majority-Black districts, based on recent census data. Under the map advanced by the School Board Thursday night, the new Board in 2023 would likely consist of a 6-3 white majority, despite overseeing a EBR public school system that serves a Black student population of almost 72%.
All five of the Board’s white Republican members – Mark Bellue, Connie Bernard, Jill Dyason, Mike Gaudet and David Tatman – voted for a school district map that would largely maintain the current 9-member map lines, ignoring recent demographic trends. All four of the Board’s Black Democratic members – Dawn Collins, Tramelle Howard, Dadrius Lanus and Evelyn Ware-Jackson – voted for the plan that would have expanded the Board and created districts that more accurately reflected the current student and voting population the school system serves.
Superintendent of the EBR School System Dr. Sito Narcisse was not present for the vote or public comment but did arrive after much of the public and press had departed.
Thursday’s vote came after a month of Board deliberations over 19 potential maps, all predicated by and based on the recent 2020 Census data. By Thursday, the vote had come down to two possible maps. The first was a proposal from School Board members Evelyn Ware-Jackson (District 5) and Dawn Chanet Collins (District 4) – both Black Democrats – that would have expanded the Board to 11 members while ensuring that the map would result in 6 majority-Black voting districts. The second proposal simply maintained the status quo while ignoring clear population trends, not to mention the infamous white flight of the public school system over the last decade.
According to the most recent 2020 census data, Black residents now make up the majority of the EBR school system, a notable change from the 2010 census and the catalyst for the growing public calls for a school board that better reflected the new dynamic. However, because of recent white population shifts and the relative static concentration of EBR’s Black population, maintaining the status quo would give disproportionate influence to less populated, white-majority areas. Even Board member Ware-Jackson warned during the meeting that her current district – despite her incumbency – was already unlikely to remain held by a Black Democrat for long, underscoring the apparent cognitive dissonance of the white Board members who still voted to uphold the status quo.
“I think I’ve proven that I’m re-electable,” said Ware-Jackson, referring to her most recent re-election campaign in 2018. “But if a Republican with respect from the Republican Party had run against me, it might have been a different story.”
While over an hour of public testimony from the dozens of community members who packed the room – in addition to the public statements from civil rights organizations around the Parish in advance of the vote – indicated clear preference for the Ware-Jackson/Collins proposal, the Board’s 5 white Board members remained stoic and promptly voted – without public comment or explanation – for the status quo map, prompting the Board’s 4 Black members – who all voted for the Ware-Jackson/Collins map – to walk out of the room in protest.
“What the White Republicans voted for tonight was a lawsuit,” said Collins after the vote. “I mean, they chose one of the most egregious maps out of all the 19 plans that were on the table. It’s almost like they want a lawsuit.”
Following through on their numerous warnings ahead of the vote, several local civil rights organizations immediately declared their intentions to challenge the new map in federal court, including the NAACP and the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice.
“We never had any trust or belief that the Republican Members of this body would do the right thing,” said Eugene Weatherspoon Collins, President of the Baton Rouge area NAACP. “We will support the NAACP [Legal Defense Fund] in pursuing litigation, which we always knew would be the case.”
“The outcome of the school board vote is not representative of true democracy,” said Kaitlyn Joshua, Faith Organizer for the Power Coalition. “The community was clear in their narrative, they wanted an 11 single member map that accounted for growth and diversity. We are ready to do the work to make this right!”
It should be noted that no one publicly spoke in favor of the 6-3 majority-White map – including the 5 Board members who voted in favor of it. When pressed by community members following the vote to explain their reasoning, the remaining Board members simply sat in silence as they waited for public testimony to conclude.
“It was just so incredibly disappointing,” said Jennifer Harding, a mother of student in EBR public schools and president of the Progressive Social Network, who also spoke during the public comments portions of the meeting. “The had the opportunity to do the right thing – to listen to what the public wanted – but instead they chose to pass through a racist map that’s going to continue to suppress Black political power on our School Board and is going to end up in a costly, drawn out lawsuit that we the taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill [on].”
“It’s just really disappointing.”
Pending litigation, the new map will be the jurisdictional basis for the upcoming November 8 School Board elections. Qualifying for that election is July 20-22.