Popular administrator promoted to lead desegregation efforts


Vero Beach native Eric Seymour faces the daunting challenge of leading the School District into compliance with a half-century-old federal desegregation order.

School Superintendent David Moore has promoted Seymore to assistant superintendent and assigned him to oversee the new Office of Student Affairs, Advocacy and Access for the 2021-2022 school year.

Moore assigned another veteran African American school administrator and longtime Vero resident, Wilfred Hart, to serve as equity coordinator to help achieve equal treatment and educational outcomes for all students. 

Currently, African American students are disciplined at a higher rate and do worse academically than White students. 

The new assignments for Seymour and Hart quelled the controversy that erupted in late February when Moore advertised for a new “chief equity and diversity officer” position.

Several parents and political activists spoke out against the position during recent School Board meetings, with some claiming “equity” and “diversity” were code words for a leftist political agenda that includes “critical race theory” and anti-white racism.

But during the May 25 School Board meeting, several parents spoke in favor of teaching the role racism played in the history of the United States.

And Hart offered to tell opponents of critical race theory about the incidents of racist behavior he experienced as a youngster at Osceola Elementary School in the mid-1960’s.

“I’m going to tell you about the critical race fact,” Hart said. “I get to third and fourth grade and they called me [the N-word] and made me sit in the back of the classroom. I can’t ever forget this mess.”

“It hurt,” Hart said. “It hurt my brother as well. We were the only black students in the whole school until we integrated the school system.”

School Board Chairman Brian Barefoot credited Hart with bringing him up to speed on the history of the efforts to bring racial equality to the county’s public schools in the decades since the federal order was imposed.

Seymour earned acclaim for his ability to navigate students, parents, teachers and principals through difficult situations while serving as director of advocacy, athletics and student activities.

“You’re a rock star,” School Board member Teri Barenborg told Seymour, who she also knows from their days coaching youth sports and working as principals in St. Lucie County.

“I have heard so many positive comments from parents who called me very upset,” Barenborg said about the School District’s troubleshooter. “Then they’ll call me back and tell me how wonderful they felt like they were treated.”

Seymour recalled growing up in Vero Beach and returning to teach at Vero Beach High School before working his way through the administrative ranks to the district cabinet.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” Seymour told the board. “I hope by this time next year, you say, ‘It was a great move,’ and I’m going to give it my all to make that happen.”

In order to lead the School District into compliance with the desegregation order, Seymour must find ways to hire more African American teachers and improve the academic performance of African American students, among other tasks. 

In a related action, the School Board voted unanimously to work with the local NAACP to develop a policy to ensure efforts to attain unitary status are sustained in the future. 

Attaining full unitary status would mean that, in the eyes of the court, the school district has eliminated the effects of past segregation to the extent practicable.

The new policy is due to the School Board by Aug. 10.

The School District earned partial unitary status in 2018 for meeting some requirements of the desegregation order. 

Barefoot and board member Peggy Jones said they’re determined to push ahead and fully resolve the long-standing court case.

“We’re going to make a lot of progress,” Barefoot said. “We’re going to put this whole litigation behind us and we’re going to get to unitary status in a way that continues well beyond the designation of unitary status.”

Jones, who like Seymour worked her way from school teacher to district administrator, said, “As I’ve said before: This is a public school system, and we will have equity. I know there’s nowhere to go but up.”

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