VOL. 124 | NO. 99 | Thursday, May 21, 2009
Breaking News: County Schools Deseg Suit Over Appeals Court Rules
By Bill Dries
The 46-year-old racial desegregation lawsuit that has governed the Shelby County school system for decades is over, according to a ruling today from the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The ruling reverses a controversial 2007 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Bernice Donald.
Donald rejected a settlement of the 1963 suit by Claude Robinson against the Shelby County school system even though all of the plaintiffs agreed with the school system that the case should be closed. She specifically ruled that the school system had failed to take all steps necessary to eliminate the vestiges of a racially segregated school system.
The appointment of a special master, also ordered by Donald, was delayed as the case was appealed by the county school system.
“In the present case, the district court denied unitary status in the areas of student assignment, faculty integration and extracurricular activities,” reads the appeals court opinion. “The district court abused its discretion by not affording sufficient weight to the parties’ joint motion and its factual basis.”
The reaction from county school officials came just several hours after the ruling was posted on the court’s Web site.
“I have dreamed of this moment,” Shelby County school board chairman David Pickler told reporters at a hastily called press conference. “The process is at an end.”
The ruling means the school system has formally reached unitary school status. The status is a legal acknowledgement that all vestiges of racial segregation have been dealt with. But Pickler said the school system has been functioning informally as such a school system for years.
He also told reporters that the school system will continue to abide and accept responsibility for racial equality standards set forth in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The landmark case held that racial segregation of schools was unconstitutional. It was the basis for all other school desegregation lawsuits that followed across the country.
Read more about the impact of the appeals court decision in Tuesday’s edition of The Daily News.