Despite objections from residents, Louisiana House committee advances bill rezoning Central school district

By Piper Hutchinson, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE–The House Committee on Education advanced a bill Tuesday that would adjust the boundaries of the school district in Central, a suburb of Baton Rouge, and exclude potential Black students.

Senate Bill 189, sponsored by Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, adjusts boundaries of the Central Community School System to exclude a planned subdivision, Belle Arbor.  

The bill would affect 400 students, many of them from black families. Those students would instead be assigned to the East Baton Rouge school district, which is lower rated than Central schools.

The bill cleared the committee on a 5-4 vote, with committee chairman Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, casting the deciding vote. The vote was entirely along party lines.

An earlier version of the bill included two other neighborhoods, but those were amended out of the bill.

Belinda Davis, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and a professor of political science at LSU, previously spoke against the bill.

Davis said that the areas that White is attempting to exclude were added to the school system because without them, the district would have been 90% white, making it susceptible to civil rights lawsuits.

Albert Samuels, a Central resident, called the bill an example of systemic racism.

“It seems that the only reason this bill is being pushed is because Sen. White think that this subdivision is going to be majority Black,” Samuels said.

White disputed having any racial intent.

“This is not about race,” White said. “It is about overcrowding our school system too fast.”

The subdivision is slated to include about 180 homes on 52 acres.

White said that his intent is to prevent a surge of residents in the school system, which has about 4,800 students.

Several residents came to oppose the bill.

Keith Carmen told the committee that the area is seeking to be annexed by the City of Central. If that happened, the neighborhood could be in a position where it is in the city limits but not part of the school district, leaving the students stranded.

Carmen argued that the matter was a local issue that should be handled by local authorities.

Edgar Cage, an advocate for Together Louisiana, pointed out that no Central residents showed up to advocate for the bill, arguing that their absence should alarm the committee.

Rep. Ken Brass, D-Vacherie, asked White to consider pulling the bill and bringing it back in a year or two after discussing it with community members, as the subdivision is not slated to be built for two to three more years.

White declined, as he is term limited.

The bill already cleared the Senate 32-1 on April 13, with just Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, opposing it.

The bill now goes to the House floor, setting up a possible showdown in the waning days of the session.

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