Friday, July 26, 2013

Unitary Status in Sumter, SC

Forty years after school desegregation began in Sumter County, SC, it has come to an end.  Last week, a district court in Randall v. Sumter School Dist. No. 2, 2013 WL 3786344 (D.S.C. 2013), declared the school district unitary.  The court found that 16 of the district's 26 schools fell within plus or minus 20% of the districts overall racial demographics (61.45% African American, 31.99% white, and 6.56% other).  Of the 10 schools more than 20 percent outside of this variance, seven were what the court called racially integrated, meaning that htey were just over half white and about 40 percent or so African American.  The three remaining imbalanced schools, however, were almost entirely minority, with less than  10 percent white students.  The court found that these significantly imbalanced schools were a result of demographic shifts rather than the vestiges of discrimination.

This is a hard case on which to form a strong opinion without knowing a lot more about the facts on the ground.  With that said, I can't help but offer a few observations.  First, the level of racial balance in most of the district's schools is to be commended.  I have seen a lot worse backsliding in districts that were under heavy court supervision.  Sumter has not been under heavy supervision as of late and, thus, this balance is a testament to the school board and the community.  Yet to be clear, twenty percent is a wider variance than many districts courts have required, and it does not necessarily represent significant racial balance.  For instance, in a 50% African Amerian-50% White school district, half of the schools could be 70% African American and 30% White, while the other half of the schools were 70% white and 30% African American.  I would find it hard to call that a racially balanced distirct.

Second, the continued existence of effectively one race schools in Sumter raises serious red flags.  The Supreme Court in Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenberg emphatic in indicating that such schools are presumptive unconstitutional.  Absent compelling evidence that these one race schools are beyond the school's control or are the result of demographic shifts that overwhelmed the district's efforts, unitary status is problematic.  Yet, the most interesting aspect of the case is the fact that both plaintiffs and the defendant agreed that the district was unitary and that these imbalanced schools were a result of changing demographics.  Just to make sure, I also confirmed this directly with the plaintiffs' attorney, Garell Deas.   Thus, the facts do not seem to match my general skepticism.  

Regardless, let us hope that the school district will be able to maintain as much racial integration after unitary status as it did before.  Only time will tell.


Cases, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink


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