The Cleveland High School (in gold jackets) and East Side High School marching bands merged during the halftime show at Delta State University.
The Cleveland High School (in gold jackets) and East Side High School marching bands merged to perform together during the halftime show at Delta State University when the teams played in September.


The Cleveland School District, re-thinking its plan to shutter majority-black schools to achieve desegregation, now proposes using facilities on both the east and west sides of Cleveland.

In a Nov. 15 letter from Cleveland school board attorney Jamie Jacks to U.S. District Judge Debra Brown, Jacks says the superintendent and board have been listening to community citizens’ concerns, particularly around the placement of all 7th through 12th graders at the Cleveland High and Margaret Green Junior High campuses.

Both of those campuses are on the west side of Cleveland. Earlier court filings by the Justice Department concluded that those schools had a disproportionally higher white student body than the district as a whole while the student populations of the high school and middle school on the east side of town were almost entirely black.

East Side High School in Cleveland
East Side High School in Cleveland

Superintendent Jacquelyn Thigpen presented an alternate plan to the school board in executive session Monday night, the letter states. That plan would place all 6th through 8th grade students on the Margaret Green campus, all 9th and 10th graders on the East Side High campus, and all 11th and 12th graders at Cleveland High.

The new proposal utilizes existing school facilities on both sides of the railroad tracks that run through the community, separating what had historically been the predominantly white west side of Cleveland from the predominantly black east side.

The move is the latest in a decades-long desegregation lawsuit involving the district. Brown has ordered the district to develop a satisfactory desegregation plan and a timeline for implementing it.

The board originally proposed housing all students at facilities on the west side of town. That proposal was met with much opposition from the community, particularly African Americans. It would have required nearly $3.6 million for expansion and improvements to those facilities, and, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, would have placed “the entire burden of desegregation upon black students and their families.”

The letter to Brown contains more details on how students would be grouped.

“The 9th and 10th grade campus would allow faculty and resources to be grouped together to meet the needs of these particular students who must focus on this certain course work that must be mastered to graduate. Once the 9th and 10th grade classes are passed, the students would then be able to choose from AP classes, Dual Credit or another Career Track at the current CHS (Cleveland High School) campus which would become the 11th – 12th grade school,” Jacks’ letter continued.

The board voted 4 to 1, with board member Tonya Short voting nay, to move forward with the new plan, Jacks told residents Monday night. At the time she declined to reveal details of the new proposal until plaintiffs in the lawsuit and Justice Department officials were informed.

“The District respectfully submits that the new plan addresses the concerns of all stakeholders in that the plan can be accomplished without borrowing any funds, makes sense academically, and honors East Side’s legacy and can happen in the next school term,” Jacks concluded.

The district will formally file the entire desegregation plan with the court by the end of the day Wednesday, states the letter, which was filed with the court on Tuesday.


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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.