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Settlement Outlined in Alabama School Bias Case

<i> From Associated Press</i>

The Justice Department and school board attorneys reached a preliminary agreement Wednesday that could settle a racial discrimination complaint against this town’s school system, and federal arson investigators determined that a weekend blaze that destroyed the local high school was intentionally set.

Deval Patrick, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said the government reached the agreement partly because of the Monday reassignment of Principal Hulond Humphries, who touched off a furor by threatening to cancel the spring prom if interracial couples planned to attend. Patrick said the school board showed “a commitment to resolve faculty desegregation issues.”

Patrick referred in part to the board’s decision to form a faculty committee--half black, half white--to hear grievances of parents and students and coordinate with school officials to resolve them.

A hearing set for today on the department’s motion that Humphries be removed as principal pending trial was canceled by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson under the agreement.

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A trial is still set for October on the Justice Department’s broader claims of racial discrimination in the school system. Attorneys for both sides plan further discussions in an attempt to avoid a trial.

Humphries, reassigned to an office job overseeing the rebuilding of the school, was replaced by a white principal and a black assistant principal. The other assistant principal is white.

The 680-student school is about 38% black.

State Fire Marshal John Robison said a draft report from a special federal arson investigation team determined that the weekend fire at Randolph County High School was intentionally set. He said authorities had no suspects.

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Earlier in the day, a tearful Humphries broke his public silence. Cheered by supporters, he read a statement but avoided reporters’ questions.

“It has been difficult to stand back and listen to allegations against me without responding,” he said. “However, I kept my silence strictly on the advice of my attorney.”

Humphries denied that he hit a black cameraman who was filming the burning school. And he said he was sorry if the cameraman, Bill Gill of WVTM-TV in Birmingham, was injured when confronted early Saturday while filming Humphries during the effort to put out the fire. Gill, who is black, claims the white principal led others who knocked him to the ground. He said he would file a lawsuit.

“As Mr. Gill knows, I never touched him. I never touched his camera,” Humphries said.

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He declined to say anything about ReVonda Bowen, a mixed-race student who claimed he told her that her parents made “a mistake” in having her. He said the matter could still be litigated, although Bowen received $25,000 toward her college education in a settlement from the school board’s insurer.

Humphries, 55, said it was difficult to give up the job of principal he had held for a quarter-century but felt it was best for his family and the community.


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