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School attorney says goodbye

Monroe attorney Koy Dawkins, left, was recognized during a recent Board of Education meeting, after announcing that he will retire as school board attorney, concentrating his energies on his private practice. Board of Education Chairman Dean Arp is pictured, at right, awarding Dawkins a plaque in appreciation of his 45 years of service to the school system.

After 45 years in school law, Monroe attorney Koy Dawkins has decided to retire as school board attorney and concentrate his energies on his private practice.
    Dawkins was honored during the July 8, 2008, Board of Education meeting with a plaque “honoring 45 years of outstanding contributions and service to the public schools of Union County.” He will be recognized for his years of service at a reception in his honor in August.
    “I’ve known Mr. Dawkins since before 1963,” said board member Carolyn Lowder when Dawkins announced that he would retire from the school system. “He is honored and respected by other board attorneys. He has served with distinction. He has given good and faithful service through these 45 years.”
     Dawkins was hired in 1963 by the Monroe City School Board during desegregation. “Integration was difficult because it was such a change,” he said. “It was not a legal problem. The legality of what was to be done was pretty simple. The Monroe City School Board saw that there were going to be some real changes made – that separate schools within the system were going away.” 
    The process of integration in Monroe schools, however, was fairly smooth. “The Monroe City system’s integration was very peaceful. The riots that occurred didn’t happen in the schools, but there were some rioting in the streets of Monroe.”
    The process of integration was expedited, however, when a fire occurred at the then black high school, Winchester High School. This quickly integrated Monroe Senior High School. “There was only one high school,” Dawkins said. “Monroe High School had replaced the old Walter Bickett School in the old city school system sometime in the mid to late 1950s. The county’s high school at the time was Benton Heights High School.”
    The early 1990s brought another major change to the school system – the merger of Monroe City Schools and the Union County Public Schools. Dawkins’ role as school attorney for the city schools continued even after the merger in 1993. His role evolved in recent years from school system attorney, to that of a full-time school board attorney.
    In reflecting back over the past 45 years, Dawkins said there have been a lot of changes in education. When he first became a school attorney; Dawkins rarely spent time in the courtroom over school business.
    “That’s changed considerably. Serious disciplinary actions today – you can not only count on going through the disciplinary process at the school level, but you can also count on going before the school board, and many times those hearings are then appealed to the court system.”
    Weapons in the schools and students calling in bomb threats were unheard of when Dawkins began practicing school law 45 years ago. “It’s amazing me that parents and students choose not to understand why weapons and bomb threats are considered such a serious offense,” Dawkins said. 
    There has also been a huge change in the attitude of the general public toward educators. “When I was a boy, and a couple of generations after that, school teachers and school principals were highly respected,” Dawkins said. “If I got disciplined at school, I got twice that when I got home. The attitude about discipline and respect for authority has changed in society today. Parents quite often challenge the authority of the schools to discipline their children.”
    School boards now face challenges, not just on a local level, but also on a state and national level, as well. Dawkins said the School Board is faced with building schools fast enough to cope with the explosive growth, while maintaining the academic requirements that state and federal guidelines require such as No Child Left Behind.
    “I sat there the other night listening to board members try to figure out how to keep students at the same school for four years. And that isn’t going to happen. Even with the slowing in growth, you’re still going to have growth. If we go from abnormal growth, to normal growth, we’ve still got growth.”
    School systems today have to comply with state and federal guidelines in order to maintain funding. “Bills and acts that demand a certain level of achievement in students didn’t exist 25 years ago,” Dawkins said. “It’s a heavy load for school districts. For example, No Child Left Behind says if your school doesn’t achieve a certain level of success; they’ll shut you down. The complexity and broad aspects of regulation of education is indescribable.”
    One of the most enjoyable aspects of his role as a school attorney, Dawkins said, is the camaraderie he’s developed over the years with other public school lawyers. “The NC Public School lawyers with whom I’ve been associated for all these many years has to be one of the finest experiences in my professional career,” he said. “We are close. We share like no other professional group in which I’m involved.”
    Dawkins said legal advice concerning a complicated legal issue is but a phone call away. And he makes himself available to other school lawyers who have questions about issues with which he has dealt.
    Dawkins has enjoyed the past 45 years working in education. “I’ve enjoyed being a part of public school districts in Union County,” he said. “Not every day is fun, but resolving problems and making progress in various things has been very satisfactory.”


Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, Publications Coordinator
Posted: Jul 17, 2008 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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