Early Schools Federal Court Challenge Rejected For Now

By Bill Dries

Even before the state House voted Thursday to approve schools consolidation legislation, there was a move to Memphis federal court to stop the legislation.

And, just as quickly, there was a ruling that rejected the move at least until the March 8 referendum.

Attorney Richard Fields filed a motion Wednesday in U.S. District Court seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction blocking “all legislation that will have a racial impact on the current process that will allow the Board of Education of the Memphis City Schools to surrender its charter and create one countywide system.”

Fields termed the legislation “an obvious racial ploy to stop the consolidation of the school districts” while other school districts across the state have consolidated without state action.

“The only difference is that Shelby County will be majority black – a significant factor that makes this an overtly racial ploy,” Fields wrote.

U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays dismissed the motion, saying Fields could refile after the March 8 citywide referendum on schools consolidation.

The filing from Fields also contends the Shelby County Commission has “already set up” a 27-member countywide school board.

The commission has not voted on the matter nor has it established in a proposal the size of such a countywide board.

The commission is scheduled to vote Monday on a bundle of resolutions related to the schools consolidation legislation.

Fields filed the motion as attorney for the plaintiffs in the 50-year-old Memphis City Schools desegregation case – Deborah Northcross et al v. Board of Education.

His motion sought to make the state of Tennessee a defendant in the suit.

The case has been in inactive status since Nov. of 1992 when all sides agreed to the status in a consent order.