A district judge has ruled that Shelby
County schools still are not ready
to have a 1963 desegregation order lifted.
In a 62-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Bernice
Donald said the school system has succeeded in some aspects of desegregation
but still has more work to do.
Donald cited recent statistics showing that nine county
schools were less than 10 percent black while six others were between 56 and 90
percent black. Overall, black students make up about 32 percent of students in
the district, but only 17 schools had a racial makeup that reflected that
composition to within 10 percentage points.
A new high school that is scheduled to open in a few weeks
is expected to have a black student population of 88 percent or higher.
The judge said the school board’s compliance with the
desegregation order has been “selective, spotty and anemic.” In some
instances it has completely ignored court orders and has not been diligent in
living up to its constitutional obligation to desegregate the schools. But she
also said previous court orders have not been firm enough and are partly to
blame for the problems that still exist.
“The court recognizes the great progress the board has
made in desegregating its schools,” Donald said. “However, the law
requires more than progress and the passage of time. It requires the complete
dismantling of all vestiges of past state-imposed public school segregation
with the ultimate goal of achieving a unitary system.”
Donald will appoint a special master to oversee the county’s
progress and to report back to the court. She said she expects the county
schools to achieve full compliance by October 2015, at which point the case
could be dismissed.
Her ruling came despite attorneys on both sides of the case
filing a motion to dismiss last August, saying the county had eliminated all
aspects of racial inequities in its system, which comprises all Shelby County
schools outside the separately run Memphis city school district.
The federal government concurred, noting that only six of
the county’s 49 schools were “majority minority,” the faculty at only
a dozen schools was less than 10 percent black and the board had engaged in
substantial recruitment efforts to hire black faculty.
“As a neutral,” Donald said, “… the court
has a duty to independently evaluate the progress of Shelby County schools in
achieving compliance with the court’s order to fully remove all vestiges of de
jure (lawful) segregation. At this point, the Shelby
County school district does not yet
merit a passing grade.”
Information from: The Commercial Appeal,
– Associated Press
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