School district responds to court request
by Courtney Warren
Apr 04, 2014 | 2812 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A recent article by the Associated Press said, "A federal appeals court has asked a Mississippi judge to explain how a freedom of choice plan will desegregate the Cleveland, Miss., school system."

On behalf of the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland School District, Attorney Jamie Jacks sent a press release that said, "The Cleveland School District has reviewed the opinion of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals addressing Judge Glenn Davidson’s decision to allow junior high and high school students in Cleveland to attend any school they like.

"The 5th Circuit has asked Judge Davidson for a more explicit explanation of his reasons for adopting the freedom of choice plan and/or for consideration of alternative plans proposed by the parties.

"As the Cleveland School District emphasized in its brief and in oral argument before the 5th Circuit, the District has made remarkable desegregation progress. In his opinions in this case, Judge Davidson agreed. Meanwhile, the District continues to achieve real integration in its schools while other Delta school districts have only become more racially isolated.

"The District’s objective is to continue to provide outstanding educational opportunities for all of its students and is committed to doing just that as this case moves forward."

Last month school board members attended an oral argument in New Orleans regarding desegregation and following that argument Jacks said, "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."

The U.S. Justice Department 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 the next year 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.

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."