Decision delayed on city schools
by Chance Wright
Dec 12, 2012 | 3739 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For the approximately 30 or so people who travelled to the U.S. Courthouse in Oxford Tuesday to witness the verdict in the nearly 50-year-old case pitting the Cleveland School District against the U.S. Department of Justice, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Glenn H. Davidson's delay of his verdict until after the first of the year came as somewhat of a disappointment.

"I am granting an extension until the first of the year for the U.S. Department of Justice to review Dr. Rossell's study and file any objections," said Davidson. "I will then make a decision on this according to the law and the Constitution of the United States."

The school district filed a study from Dr. Christine Rossell on the integration of schools from the McComb School District and the Lincoln County Parish School District in Louisiana and the DOJ objected to the study citing not having time to thoroughly review it.

The issue at hand revolves around the U.S. Department of Justice's belief that the Cleveland School District continues to practice a form of segregation by operating separate middle and high schools, which are nearly 100 percent black schools.

The case began on July 24, 1965, when numerous individual plaintiffs sued the Bolivar County Board of Education, including the Cleveland School District, which was known at the time as Bolivar County School District Number 4.

The plaintiffs argued that the board had white-only and black-only schools.

In 1965, Judge Claude Feemster Clayton ordered the board of education to submit its first plan of desegregation and then in the 1967-1968 school year Clayton ordered the board to desegregate faculty.

Over the years, the district has been ordered to submit plans aimed at tearing down the segregation barrier.

By instruction from Davidson, opening statements were waved.

"I believe that we all know why we are here today," he said. "So, we will skip the openings and move right along."

The school district, represented by the Cleveland firm of Jacks, Adams & Norquist, PA, called Dr. Beverly Hardy, principal of Hayes Cooper Center and project director for the district's Magnet programs, as its first witness.

During her testimony, Hardy provided enrollment figures for the district as well as for each individual school in question.

According to her testimony, the Cleveland School District had 3,728 students enrolled as of Nov. 26. Of that number, 30 percent are white, 66.3 percent are black, 2.8 percent Hispanic and one percent Asian.

Cleveland High School had a total enrollment of 612 at the time. Of that number there are 289 whites, 278 blacks, 26 Hispanic and 19 Asian students.

Margaret Green Junior High School had 475 students enrolled as of Nov. 26. Of that number, 241 are white and 203 are black.

East Side High School had 368 students enrolled at the time and of that number, 365 of them were black.

After providing the enrollment figures, the district moved Hardy's testimony to the proposed plan filed with the court and DOJ in May.

In the school district's proposal, submitted on May 15 and reported on again on Aug. 17, the district proposed to introduce "magnet" programs at both East Side High School and D.M. Smith Middle School to help attract white students from Cleveland High School and Margaret Green Jr. High.

The magnet programs core would be math, science and engineering; or math, science and health science.

The plan also cited the district's Majority to Minority Program as a tool used in the desegregation of the schools.

"The district believes that its current Majority to Minority Program together with the ongoing magnet school programs are serving to increase diversity at our district schools," said the Aug. 17 order from the school district.

"The Majority to Minority Program and the Magnet Schools Program has already resulted in integrated student populations at Cleveland High School, MGJH, Pearman Elementary, Parks Elementary, Bell Academy and Hayes Cooper Center."

U.S. Department of Justice attorney Joseph Wardenski asked Hardy how long would it take to implement the new magnet programs at East Side and D.M. Smith and how much additional money would it cost to implement them.

"We would certainly have to hire a good program director and would have to have some training, but we wouldn’t have to add a lot of new personnel," Hardy testified.

Later in her testimony she gave a figure of $50,000-$75,000 to implement the program.

"Do you believe the programs will attract white students," asked Wardenski.

"We have seen a greater number of CHS students participate in the IB program at East Side this year," said Hardy. "The number grew from 12 last year to 38 this year. That is a pretty significant increase."

Hardy gave an in depth explanation of how the magnet programs that are already in place in schools within the district would integrate into the newly proposed middle and high school levels in an attempt to attract white students to East Side and D.M. Smith.

After Hardy's testimony, the district called its second and final witness, School Board President Maurice Lucas.

When asked what avenues of integrating the schools that the board of trustees discussed, Lucas said that the proposed magnet program was the only one.

"We (board) think that with good leadership the proposal would be successful," he said. "I was on the board when we first started the magnet programs at the other schools within the district and those turned out to be extremely successful."

Wardenski then asked why no other option was considered.

"We had a discussion years ago on the bond issue and the city's capabilities of building a new high school," answered Lucas. "We looked at what the estimated cost would be, between $25 million and $35 million, and took a vote that failed miserably. Our bond capacity isn’t even that high."

During Lucas' redirect, the district asked for his opinion on whether or not the community would want to do away with East Side High School or Cleveland High School.

"There is history and tradition there," said Lucas. "I don't think the community would like that at all. Each school has its role in the community and are very important to members of the community."

After a few more questions, the district rested.

Wardenski and the U.S. Department of Justice called three witnesses — Tonya Short of Renova, Linda Sanders of Boyle and Rev. Edward Duvall of Cleveland.

Each testified that they had children currently attending East Side High School or D.M. Smith Middle School. Each testified that their children came through the district's system and each attended Hayes Cooper during their K-12 years.

"Do you consider D.M. Smith as integrated," Wardenski asked Short.

"No," she answered.

"What then would you propose be done to better integrate the schools," he asked.

"In my personal opinion, the answer would be to consolidate to one high school and one middle school so that each child is educated on the same level," she replied. "The community would just have to 'roll with it' because they would not have a choice."

The testimony of Sanders and Duvall were similar and included other reasons like saving money, better facilities and better preparation for the "real world" as reasons for changing to one high school and one middle school.

During the cross examinations of these three witnesses, council for the district pointed out that each family "chose to send their kids to East Side or D.M. Smith.

Prior to council making closing arguments, Davidson asked each party to hit on the subject of "white flight."

White flight is a term that originated in the United States, starting in the mid-20th century and applied to the large-scale migration of whites from racially mixed urban regions to more racially homogeneous suburban regions, originating from fear and anxiety about increasing minority populations.

Council for the district presented the plan of Rossell once again to address the fear of white flight.

"Rossell's plan predicts that the Cleveland School District could lose between 50-65 percent of its white student population due to white flight," said council for the district. "And, it is of our opinion that the DOJ has not provided proof here today that the Cleveland School District is a segregated one."

Council for the Department of Justice disagreed.

"The burden of proof is on the school district to present a plan," he said. "And, furthermore, the district bears the burden to prove that any proposed plan will work. The plan they have presented here is a plan for tomorrow. We want a plan that will work and work now. The district's proposed plan falls so short of what is considered a constitutional plan.

"White flight cannot be the overwhelming factor," he continued. "In that case desegregation would have never happened. This purposed plan is too little too late."

Davidson adjourned court after saying that he expected to have a decision in early January.

The Bolivar Commercial will continue to report on this case as it unfolds.