Maps to be Entered as Evidence in Schools Case

By Bill Dries

All that’s left is a set of six maps. All sides in the federal court fight over municipal school districts on Thursday, Sept. 20, completed their proof before U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Hardy Mays on the issue of whether the state laws on the school districts violate the Tennessee Constitution.

The day in court was mainly about whether a mapmaker for the Tennessee legislature would testify about maps she made of school-age populations in Gibson and Carroll counties.

The hard-fought dispute was over whether the state laws could reasonably apply to other parts of the state outside Shelby County.

Attorneys for the Shelby County Commission claim the laws violate the Tennessee Constitution’s provisions on general law because they were crafted only to apply to Shelby County.

Attorneys for the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County argue the laws could allow for the formation of such school districts in Carroll and Gibson counties specifically, even though Gibson County doesn’t have a county school system that coexists with the Milan Special School District.

The maps of Gibson and Carroll counties to be submitted to Mays by agreement of all sides by Oct. 4 include different population estimates.

Mays will consider other testimony and depositions in making his written ruling including transcripts from the Tennessee Legislature’s 2011 and 2012 sessions of the debate leading up to the passage of the laws.

Mays has not set a date by which he will rule. But at the end of Thursday’s hearing, he told attorneys that he probably won’t get to hearing evidence in the second part of the matter in early November as scheduled.

The November hearing was to be on the County Commission’s claim that the municipal school districts would violate the U.S. Constitution by creating racially segregated school systems.

That claim would be moot if Mays rules the municipal school district laws violate the Tennessee Constitution and are void. The move to open municipal school districts by August 2013 would be void as well. But if the case moves to the federal constitutional claims, the dispute could take much more time.

“When is imponderable,” Mays said of new dates for hearing the federal claims. “It’s like a schools desegregation case. That’s what it is.”