Cleveland desegregation plan on hold

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Kate Royals/Mississippi Today

East Side High School in Cleveland

 

A federal appeals court has granted a stay of a federal judge’s desegregation order for the Cleveland School District until it can hear arguments from both sides in the case.

The news was reported in The Bolivar Bullet, a newsletter circulating in the Cleveland area. Cleveland school officials confirmed to Mississippi Today that a stay had been issued.

The stay had been requested in an appeal filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by the school board in July as it worked to address the mandates of the federal court order issued last May.

The appeals court indicated that it would hear oral arguments on the matter in April.

Sherry Shepard, a parent and concerned citizen who has been associated with the Citizens for Consolidation group said the stay left her worried.

“I feel that the decision represents a loss for the approximately 3,700 students who are now forced to stay in the vestiges of segregation and discrimination that has persisted in the Cleveland School District for more than 60 years,” Shepard said.

Despite the appeal and the new plan proposed by the school board, the district has been working toward implementation of the May 13 court order.

Steps include the creation of a multiracial advisory panel that met in November, collaborating with community members and organizations such as the local community college and the Delta Arts Alliance, and reviewing staffing needs and repairing and renovating some facilities.

The court’s May 13, 2016 order, which assigns all 9th through 12th graders to a single high school in the Cleveland High and Margaret Green facilities, both on the west side of town, and using East Side High School as a middle school for the majority of the district’s 6th through 8th graders.

The plan was scheduled to be implemented in the 2017-2018 school year.

Since that plan was announced, plaintiffs and the U.S. Department of Justice filed notice with the federal district court overseeing the desegregation effort that they continue to support that plan, rejecting alternatives presented by the school board.

“We trust that this fair and reasonable plan will effectively integrate the CSD’s (Cleveland School District) middle and high schools, provided a long awaited remedy to the Plaintiffs,” a letter from the plaintiff’s attorney to U.S. District Court stated. “The prospect of further delay and uncertainty is an injustice too great to allow.”

The district recently came up with a plan which involved housing all 9th and 10th graders on the current East Side High campus, while 11th and 12th graders would be located at Cleveland High. Most 6th through 8th graders would attend Margaret Green Junior High.

The U.S. Department of Justice chimed in with the plaintiff’s attorney in opposition to that plan.

“While the United States appreciates the District’s embrace of consolidation and its attempt to respond to the concerns of the East Side community in the development of its current proposal, Plan E (the latest school district plan) fails to equitably balance the burdens and benefits of desegregation across the Cleveland community, and is both less feasible and less educationally sound than the Court’s Adopted Plan,” a letter from the Justice Department states.

The letter says that the district’s latest plan requires more transitions of students, possibly creating “academic and social difficulties” for them.

The district is currently about 68 percent African-American and 27 percent white. In previous filings, the district has expressed concerns about potential white flight following implementation of the court’s desegregation order.

Following the court order, the district had proposed housing all students at Cleveland High and Margaret Green. Because both campuses are located on the predominantly white west side of town, many black residents objected to the abandonment of the facilities on the east side.

Shepard is a parent in the district – her daughter Jasmine recently graduated from Cleveland High School. She said she’s been following the court battles closely because she believes her daughter was discriminated against during her time there.

“The court’s ruling as it relates to the state is only one battle and it’s not the war,” she said. “I am encouraged that all students will be afforded the opportunity to have a school that is fully desegregated and encourages all students to grow to their fullest potential.”

Last week, the Cleveland School Board announced that it was accepting student selections for names for the consolidated schools once desegregation occurs: Cleveland Central High School and Cleveland Middle School. The district said the school colors would be purple and black and the mascot would be wolves.

Contributing: Kate Royals