According to a release from Jamie Jacks, the board attorney, "In January 2013, Judge Glen Davidson, the federal judge overseeing Cowan v. Cleveland School District, ordered that junior high and high school students could attend any school they wanted. The Department of Justice appealed that ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals asked for oral argument. That argument was Tuesday, March 11 in New Orleans, La. The Cleveland School District was represented at the argument by Jamie Jacks, Gerald Jacks and Holmes Adams. The District was pleased with the court's questions. A decision is expected in the next 2-3 months."
Being advised by a federal court to come in compliance with desegregation laws, which the district contends that is, not a new issue.
In fact, this entire lawsuit began nearly 42 years ago. Before the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the public school district in Cleveland was segregated by law.
Black students were legally required to attend one of four black schools on the “east side” of Cleveland, located to the east of the Illinois Central railroad tracks that ran north and south through Cleveland.
White students attended one of six white schools on the “west side” of Cleveland, to the west of the railroad tracks. Cleveland continued to operate its school system until 1969, when a federal court ordered the district to desegregate its schools.
The federal court ordered this after Diane Cowan and numerous co-plaintiffs filed a desegregation lawsuit against six school districts in Bolivar County including the Cleveland School District, then identified as Bolivar County District No. 4, back in July 24, 1965.
The decision was that for the 1970-71 school year and thereafter the Cleveland School District was to submit to full faculty and staff desegregation to such an extent that the faculty at each school was not identifiable to the race of the majority of the students at any such school.
The U.S. Justice Department once again made a complaint in the early 1980s citing that the 1969 order did not impel Cleveland to desegregate its schools. In 1989, another complaint was filed against the Cleveland School District Also in that year the district opted to re-open Hayes Cooper Elementary School as the Hayes Cooper Center.
As the district’s enrollment data indicates, Hayes Cooper Center is a magnet school success.
The school annually attracts more applicants than available slots, and it has maintained a diverse student body in accordance with the requirements of the 1989 Consent Order. Another consent order in 1992 was filed. The concern was now that the U.S. Justice Department thought the district had been unable to replicate the success of the Hayes Cooper Center at any other school, and its magnet school initiatives had failed more often than they have succeeded.
In 2004, D.M. Smith Middle School applied for and received funding from the U.S. Department of Education through the Magnet Schools Assistance Program.
They also applied and received money from 2007 to 2010 for the same purpose, however, no white students were attracted to the school despite that effort. The same can be said of East Side High School and Nailor Elementary School. Both were tried as Magnet schools, but neither attracted many white students and remain majority black schools.
As part of the 2010-2011 school reorganization plan, the district closed Bell Elementary School and dispersed its students to three other elementary schools, and re-opened the school last fall as the Bell Magnet School for Math, Science, Health and Wellness.
Senior U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Mississippi Glen H. Davidson gave his opinion on the case last year after visiting each of the schools.
Davidson, who visited the Cleveland School District before making his decision, did not order consolidation of the high schools and middle schools.
"The Court notes that the predominantly African-American junior and high schools —East Side High School and D.M. Smith Middle School — are actually housed in newer and probably superior facilities than their counterparts located on the west side of the former railroad tracks," wrote Davidson.
"The president of the School Board, who is a graduate of East Side High School, testified at the hearing that there exists a long prideful legacy among the alumni of this institution."
It was at this time Davidson ruled the high school and junior high school students should have a true freedom of choice to attend either high school and junior high school.
Students can now choose which school to attend during registration, however if a student switches schools they are required to sit out of after school activities for a year.
According to the Cleveland School District handbook, "Upon completion of grade eight, when a student has chosen a high school and attends that school for one or more days, the school of his/her choice shall become his/her home school. If the student wishes to change high schools, that student is ineligible for a period of one year in any extracurricular activities to include: sports, cheerleader, band, dance teams or any other activities governed by the Mississippi High School Activities Association."
The Bolivar Commercial will have more on the court case as the story develops.