Monday, August 26, 2013
As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the UNC Center for Civil Rights is representing a group of parents in Pitt, NC, who allege that the district has taken steps that violate its affirmative duty to desegregate. In reviewing their proposed findings of fact, the crux of their claim is that the school district had three student assignment options on the table in 2008 and choose the most segregative of the three. Plaintiffs evidence at trial indicates that the district chose the segregative plan because, during its previous student reassignment plan in 2001 or so, white parents had objected to sending their children to some schools with substantial percentages of minority students and the district sought to avoid this reaction this time. In other words, the plaintiffs allege that the district is segregating students to avoid white flight and that white flight is not a legitimate factor upon which to assign students.
The district has responded with, at least, two arguments: 1) that the district was already unitary prior to this recent reassignment (even though the district court had not deemed them as such) and, thus, only liable for intentional discrimination; and 2) demographic shifts, rather than district actions, explain the segregation.
This case is interesting for several reasons. First, Pitt County has not experienced any significant demographic shifts over the past half century and, thus, is not easily suspectible to the principle from Freeman v. Pitts, 503 U.S. 467 (1992), that a district is not responsible for counteracting segregation caused by demographic shifts. In this respect, Pitt County presents a relatively pure desegregation case that is not heavily constrained by more recent district friendly precedent. Second, this case has already gone up to the Fourth Circuit once and the Fourth Circuit did what no other court of appeals had done in a desegregation case in a while: focused on the affirmative duty of formerly dual school districts to desegregate. It wrote: "prior to being declared ‘unitary’ by a federal court, school districts operate under an affirmative obligation to eliminate unconstitutional dual school systems, as well as under a rebuttable presumption that any current racial disparities are the result of past unconstitutional conduct.” Everett v. Pitt Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 678 F.3d 281, 284 (4th Cir. 2012). Finally, plaintiffs may have made out a case of intentional segregation that is actionable even if the district court were to buy defendant's argument that it was previously unitary.
For plaintiffs' proposed findings of fact and more background on the case, Download DE-161-FOF-and-COL.