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Judge turns down contempt request for school leaders in race case

A lawyer’s request that Jefferson
County school officials be held in
contempt and put in jail was turned down Friday, before school district lawyers
even responded to the request.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II issued the ruling in
a case stemming from the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision that rejected the
use of race in assigning students to Louisville schools.

“Defendants need not respond to such an outrageous
motion, couched in such unprofessional language,” Heyburn wrote.

Attorney Teddy B. Gordon, who represented Louisville parent
Crystal Meredith in challenging the student assignment plan, said in filing his
request Thursday that he wants the current system scrapped immediately. He
asked the judge to allow about 2,800 students to change schools immediately.

Classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 13. The Supreme Court
ruling was issued June 28, and the district has since dropped race in making
individual assignments and is starting a new plan to come up with another

But Gordon said the students already assigned for the
2007-08 school year should be given options to attend different schools and
that failing to do so violated the ruling. He asked the judge to hold
administrators and school board members in contempt and jail them if they
couldn’t show they complied with the ruling.

The court’s ruling came after most assignments had already
been made, and school district lawyers say the decision does not require them
to change assignments made before the ruling.

Heyburn said if the plaintiffs disagree that the district has
taken steps to comply with the ruling, they should file an appropriate motion,
The Courier-Journal reported.

“The court has every intention of thoroughly
considering the legitimate concerns of both sides raised in a civil and
appropriate manner,” Heyburn wrote. “Unfortunately, the motion most
recently filed falls far short of these last two basic requirements.”

While “calling for contempt citations and incarceration
of individual school board members and administrators will not advance the
resolution of any legitimate concerns,” he said, the court would
“gladly set an immediate hearing to discuss any future valid motions that
require attention.”

Byron Leet, a lawyer for the school district, said the order
showed that “the business of educating school children and assigning
student is serious it’s too important to leave to games and motions that were
clearly without any merit.”

Gordon said through a spokeswoman that he was following
“normal state court procedures” to enforce an order of the court. He
said he was glad that Heyburn appeared willing to set an immediate hearing, and
that he planned to file more motions before the court “as warranted.”

The school district is about 56 percent white, 37 percent
black and 8 percent other minorities. The current plan allows some student
choice while seeking to keep minority enrollment at between 15 percent and 50
percent of the population at most schools.

Meredith got involved in the case because her son was bused
90 minutes round trip each day. She later moved, and her son, now 10, got into
his school of choice.

Information from: The Courier-Journal,

– Associated Press

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