In the weeks before Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith won her Senate race in Mississippi, the Jackson Free Press revealed she attended a segregation academy as a child in the 1970s and later sent her daughter to one. Critics pointed to her support of these schools as further evidence of a deep-seated racism ― she had already been caught making controversial remarks about her willingness to attend public hangings.
While schools like the one Hyde-Smith attended are no longer allowed to discriminate against students of color, they certainly still exist, and some have received a new influx of public funding.
HuffPost has learned that at least six schools that were founded as segregation academies in Mississippi are eligible to receive new public funding through school choice programs and continue to shut out certain groups of students. Of these schools, all explicitly ban pregnant students, and one bans LGBTQ students.
Segregation academies are private schools that were formed in Mississippi and other parts of the South by whites in the 1960s and ’70s in an effort to avoid racial mixing amid court-ordered school desegregation. At first, the state provided families with tuition grants that helped them afford these private schools. The Supreme Court cracked down on these types of schools and their discriminatory policies in 1976.
But in recent years, there has been a new injection of taxpayer funds into schools that were founded for these purposes. Through the state’s education scholarship account program, which is specifically targeted toward students with special needs, families can use up to $6,500 a year for private school tuition.
As of the beginning of the 2017 school year, 84 private schools in Mississippi participated in the program, according to a list provided last year by the state Department of Education. Six of these schools were once specifically designed to shut out students of color.
“When I hear about these segregation academies who receive some type of voucher funding, I think the more things change, the more they stay the same,” said William Berry, education policy analyst for the Southern Education Foundation. “You do see some schools who really embraced this history.”
All six schools’ handbooks advise that female students who get pregnant, as well as the male students involved, will be expelled. The handbook for Hillcrest Christian School in Jackson says the administration may ask a student to take a pregnancy test. Mississippi’s governor, Republican Phil Bryant, attended Hillcrest Christian when it went by a different name, Council McCluer.
The handbook for Parklane Academy in McComb, which Britney Spears once attended, says pregnant students will not be considered for re-admission.
And another school’s handbook, Northpoint Christian School in Southhaven, says students who had their pregnancy terminated through abortion will also be expelled.
Given these schools’ histories, this type of overt discrimination is hardly shocking, said Robert Luckett, associate professor of history at Jackson State University.
“The continuity of discrimination in schools that don’t deal with their past, that don’t honestly try to grapple with their past, is not surprising,” said Luckett, who has studied these issues and written about Bryant’s involvement with these schools.
The continuity of discrimination in schools that don’t deal with their past, that don’t honestly try to grapple with their past, is not surprising. Robert Luckett, associate professor of history, Jackson State University
Northpoint Christian School also has a policy of banning LGBTQ students. In the school’s handbook, it says “homosexuality” is grounds for dismissal and any applying student “who promotes, engages in, or identifies himself/herself with such activity through any action” will not be admitted.
One other school, Madison-Ridgeland Academy in Madison, has a dress code policy with specific racial undertones, banning hairstyles including “twists,” “cornrows” and “dreadlocks.”
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund recently asserted in a legal complaint that banning these hairstyles ― which are intimately associated with African Americans ― constitutes a form of racial discrimination. The complaint, which was targeted at Florida private schools, noted that in the state these bans occur “against the backdrop of an alarming history of Florida private schools discriminating against Black students” through segregation academies.
HuffPost asked all six schools about their current demographics as well as how they are addressing their pasts. None of the schools responded.
Data from the National Center of Education Statistics provide clues as to how these schools currently look. As of 2015-16, Magnolia Heights had only five black students out of 584 students enrolled, less than 1 percent. By comparison, the local public junior and senior high school is about 50 percent black. At another school, Northpoint Christian School, about 11 percent of students are black, according to NCES. The county where the school is located is about a quarter black. Canton Academy is in a city that the census shows is about 70 percent black, but it has a student population that’s nearly 90 percent white, according to GreatSchools.org.
Some of these schools advertise their history online without mentioning segregation as a factor.
Magnolia Heights School in Senatobia says on its website that the institution’s founding was “the dream of a group of citizens who felt the need for alternative education.” The website for Northpoint Christian School says it was formed out of a “vision for a Christian school in the Whitehaven, Tennessee community.”
In the 1980s, the treasurer of the school Bryant attended told the Clarion-Ledger that “admitting blacks lowers educational standards. Racial mixing is wrong when it’s forced. And if it’s not forced, it’s not likely to occur.” The treasurer in 1985, W.J. Simmons, was a prominent segregationist.
Segregation academies were common across the South amid desegregation, and in states like North Carolina, many of them are still operating and also receive public funding through voucher programs. Indeed, public schools around the country ― especially in the North ― also remain intensely segregated by race.
The school Cindy Hyde-Smith attended is now closed, while the one her daughter attended, Brookhaven Academy, enrolled about 400 students in the 2015-2016 school year, according to NCES. Only one of those students was black.
In November, at the time of the Jackson Free Press report, a spokeswoman for Hyde-Smith dismissed the story as an attack from the “gotcha liberal media.”
“They have stooped to a new low, attacking her entire family and trying to destroy her personally instead of focusing on the clear differences on the issues between Cindy Hyde-Smith and her far-left opponent,” said Melissa Scallan in November.
But Luckett believes these schools and their alumni have to grapple with their pasts and what they continue to represent, especially as Mississippi schools remain deeply disparate based on race.
“The fact that Cindy Hyde-Smith went to one of these school and sent her child to one of these schools shows this history,” Luckett said. “It’s impossible to forget about it when that power structure is being perpetuated continually.”