Atmore Advance story changes school policy

Published 5:04 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Shortly after Blake Bell joined the staff of The Atmore Advance, he attracted the attention of the U.S. Justice Department.

Bell, the newspaper’s news editor and an Atmore native, wrote a story about a practice at the local high school of choosing two homecoming queens — one black and one white. The newspaper conducted an online poll and talked to school officials as well as community members about whether the practice should finally be abandoned. Most agreed that it was outdated.

The story caught the eye of someone in the Justice Department, who contacted Escambia County Schools officials to let them know that using race as a criteria in school elections of any kind was against the law.

The school system — which did not have an official policy allowing for two queens at any school based on race — quickly adopted a policy that spelled out that race would not be a criteria for selection in extra-curricular activities.

“It’s always great to see the work you do have an impact and the fact that this story prompted the federal government to check in and make sure things were being handled well in our county is just proof our industry is alive and well,” Bell said. “With the technology we have at our disposal today, a story written in any small town newspaper really can have a big impact as well as a wide audience.”