Tuesday, July 1, 2014
A U.S. District Court Judge pulled few punches yesterday in rejecting Huntsville, AL's attempts to rezone its school districts in the 51-year-old desegregation lawsuit, Hereford v. Huntsville. The Huntsville city school board moved the U.S. District Court to approve a proposed student assignment plan. Instead, U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala took the opportunity in an 107-page opinion to "chart a course towards a declaration of unitary status," something that school districts in desegregation suits are sometimes reluctant to pursue. In Hereford, Huntsville City Schools proposed to redraw school zone lines and reassign students after new school construction and closures. The U.S. Justice Department objected, arguing that the plan would combine two majority black high schools and result in studnts being placed in more segregated environments. The court not only agreed with the DOJ's assessment, but also gently chided the Justice Department for not being tougher with Huntsville as racial inequities have crept into the school system in reading and math proficiency rates, graduation rates, and AP class assignments during its decades of oversight. The court also tapped Huntsville City Schools on the wrist for accusing the DOJ's alternative student reassignment plans on its website as being needlessly complicated, saying that the DOJ plan would result in numerous feeder splits (the court noted that the government's plan in fact has none) and issuing a misleading warning that the district would lose Title I funding under the DOJ plan. Judge Haikala ordered the school board to take down the misleading information about the plans. Ultimately finding problems with both parties' proposals, the court sent the parties back to the table, this time with a magistrate judge as a mediator. In the opinion, the court outlined the "ABC's of Public School Desegregation in the 21st Century" to work towards the present problem - school rezoning - and to resolve the decades-old problem - developing an equitable and unitary system: A for attendance zones; B for building a unitary system; and and C for "for Conduct that Demonstrates Good Faith." The latter point appears to result from the court's observation that Huntsville City Schools have not been fully candid about its reasons for rezoning. The court cited a statement made by the board superitendent in an unguarded moment that students from the predominantly African-American high school “[would] be going into schools that are not accustomed to dealing with students who are below grade level.” Read the opinion in Hereford v. Huntsville here.