East Side High School in Cleveland Credit: Kate Royals/Mississippi Today

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Despite an apparent concession by the Cleveland School District, a resolution to its decades-long desegregation lawsuit does not seem likely anytime soon.

The Cleveland School Board voted along racial lines in July to appeal a federal district court’s plan for desegregating the district’s schools. The plan included combining the majority-black East Side High with Cleveland High, along with consolidating the majority-black D.M. Smith Middle with Margaret Green Junior High.

“The appeal is still ongoing. It’s before the 5th Circuit (Court of Appeals),” Cleveland school board attorney Jamie Jacks said.

Despite the ongoing appeal, the Cleveland School District submitted its own plan to the court, which was not well received by many members of the community or the U.S. Department of Justice. If the court accepts the plan, Cleveland will drop its appeal, Jacks said.

The district proposed housing the consolidated high school at Cleveland High School, transferring all junior high students to the current Margaret Green campus and opening a 6th grade academy at the Walter Robinson Achievement Center (WRAC). All of the facilities in the district’s plan are on the west side of town.

If accepted, a $3.6 million bond would have to pass to fund the construction of a new 9th grade wing at Cleveland High.

The Department of Justice, however, said recently Cleveland’s plan “places the entire burden of desegregation upon black students and their families.”

The proposed closure of East Side, “supported only by the District’s unsubstantiated fear of white flight, is unconstitutional,” the government’s objection states.

Arlene Sanders, a 1978 graduate of East Side, said she finds the district’s plan “unacceptable.”

“To me, it appears as if it is punitive – ‘we will close your schools down because we’re going to consolidate,’” she said.

Cleveland attorney Helen Morris’ daughter is a sophomore at East Side and said the plan makes no sense since East Side is a newer facility, and the Walter Robinson Achievement Center is not set up to accommodate that many students.

Jacks said despite the Department of Justice’s claim that the plan is flawed, the board is “mindful of all of the information we have gathered certainly in the last few years and in the history of this case.”

“We’ve tried multiple efforts, multiple plans and programs to try to attract white students to East Side and those efforts have not worked. We’ve tried redistricting, tried magnet school programs, tried majority to minority transfers, which have not been successful in attracting white students,” Jacks said. “We know when you take away parental choice it results in a loss of white enrollment and also a loss of enrollment in general.”

A previous judge approved an open-enrollment plan that let students in Cleveland attend either East Side or Cleveland High. In addition, Cleveland High students often take International Baccalaureate courses offered at East Side.

Jacks said there is a misconception that D.M. Smith Middle School and East Side High’s facilities will no longer be in use, which she says is false. East Side would temporarily be used for a 9th grade academy and would eventually become an elementary school for students at Cypress Park. D.M. Smith Middle School could be leased out.

According to Jacks, the next step is for each side – the school district and the Department of Justice – to ask questions from the other about the plan. At that point, a hearing will be set for U.S. District Court Judge Debra Brown to rule on the plan.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.

2 replies on “Feds: Cleveland schools’ desegregation plan unconstitutional”

  1. According to CSD Attorney Jamie Jacks, “We’ve tried multiple efforts, multiple plans and programs to try to attract white students to East Side and those efforts have not worked”. You are correct, Jamie Jacks, they haven’t worked and never will because SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL, and any effort to maintain the segregated status quo in Cleveland, MS is doomed to fail! But neither will parent choice work when there is NO CHOICE for Black Parents. At East Side, the district practices racial segregation and treat black students as inferior. AS A PARENT, I DON’T CHOOSE THAT. At Cleveland High, the district practices racial discrimination and treat white students as superior. AS A PARENT, I DON’T CHOOSE THAT. So, Jamie Jacks, “Where is MY CHOICE”? There is NO CHOICE!

    It’s time to heal our schools and our community! Delaying justice perpetuates the divisions among us and only makes reconciliation much more difficult! #TeamClevelandUnited #EnoughIsEnough #It’sTimeToHeal

  2. According to this article, CSD Attorney Jamie Jacks says there is a misconception that D.M. Smith Middle School and East Side High’s facilities will no longer be in use, which, she says is false. As a Cleveland resident, I have no misconception about the “use” of the facilities on the black side of town. I have grave concerns, however, about the CLOSURE of those facilities on the Black side of town, particularly when the proposal calls for leaving the facilities on the White side of town OPEN!

    IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI DELTA DIVISION, Case: 2:65-cv-00031-DMB-JMV Doc #: 235 Filed: 09/29/16 the Cleveland School District did the following:

    On August 15, 2016, the District filed a motion to modify the May 13, 2016, desegregation order. Doc. #221. The District asked the Court to modify the desegregation plan adopted by the Court such that:

    All sixth-grade students will be assigned to the Walter Robinson Achievement Center (WRAC) (except for sixth-grade students at Hayes Cooper and Bell Academy), and all seventh through twelfth-grade students will attend Margaret Green/Cleveland High School. The District will construct a new ninth-grade wing at Margaret Green. D.M. Smith Middle School and East Side High School will be closed.
    WHERE’S THE MISCONCEPTION, ATTORNEY JAMIE JACKS? Stop trying to mislead the public by playing on words! It’s time to heal our community!

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