Court unhappy with school district’s plan
by Courtney Warren
Jun 07, 2014 | 5252 views | 0 0 comments | 51 51 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The judgment for the Cowan v. Cleveland School District appeal has been made in regards to the desegregation of the Cleveland School District.

In March school board members attended an oral argument in New Orleans regarding desegregation and following that argument board attorney Jamie 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.”

According to the court document, the conclusion of that argument was: "Given the available statistics showing that not a single white student chose to enroll at D.M. Smith or East Side High after the district court's order, and that historically, over the course of multiple decades, no white student has ever chosen to enroll at D.M. Smith or East Side High, the district court's conclusion that a freedom of choice plan was the most appropriate desegregation remedy at those schools certainly needed to be expressed with sufficient particularity to enable us to review it.

"We therefore reverse and remand for a more explicit explanation of the reasons for adopting the freedom of choice plan, and/or for consideration of the alternative desegregation plans proposed by the parties, as appropriate."

In May 2013 the district submitted its proposed desegregation plan for the 2012-2013 academic year and proposed to create new magnet programs and revitalize existing ones at D.M. Smith and East Side.

These plans consisted of offering specialized or advanced classes only at D.M. Smith and East Side and recommitting to the International Baccalaureate programs at both school in order to attracts students enrolled at Margaret Green and Cleveland High and to attract students graduating from the magnet programs at the elementary schools.

Parts of the plan called for white students to attend D.M. Smith and East Side for certain classes or for part of the day, without enrolling full time at those schools.

However according to court documents, “The United States objected to the District's plan, claiming that the magnet programs did not and would not attract white students in significant numbers and the District's plan would not meaningfully integrate schools. The United States argued that consolidation of the schools into one junior high and one high school for the entire District would accomplish the objectives set forth by the district court.”

In December 2012 the district court held a hearing on the adequacy of the school district's plan and both Beverly Hardy, former Hayes Cooper principal and director of the magnet program, and Maurice Lucas, president of the school board, testified in favor of the District's plan.

Hardy testified that the magnet programs would work and "Lucas explained why the school board chose its plan, claiming that the magnet programs were likely to be successful. He also testified that the school board had not considered consolidation."

Several parents of children attending East Side and D.M. Smith testified, Reverend Edward Duval, Lenden Sanders and Tonya Short, opposing the school district's plan.

According to the documents these parents testified, "The schools on the east side of town were not academically challenging for their children, that there was a continuing stigma associated with attending those schools, and that the public consensus was in favor of consolidation."

The district court then adopted a plan that abolished the attendance zones, allowing students to choose to attend any junior high or high school.

Shortly thereafter, the United States filed a Rule 59 motion to alter the judgment.

"It maintained, as it does on appeal, that the freedom of choice plan was constitutionally inadequate and again argued that appropriate solution was consolidation."

The school district responded by defending the freedom of choice plan and arguing that a "mandatory consolidation would ultimately result in decreased integration due to 'white flight' from the District, as mandatory consolidation would lead to white parents leaving the District or placing their children into private schools."

The latest ruling said, "The United States pointed out that, depending upon where the undecided African-American students chose to pre-enroll, there was a real possibility that Margaret Green and Cleveland High might be oversubscribed and D.M. Smith and East Side would not have enough students to operate economically."

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."