The Cleveland School District is defending its latest proposed plan to desegregate its schools, arguing that alternate plans would encourage white flight and reduce racial diversity.

The school board, with the support of Superintendent Jacquelyn Thigpen, most recently proposed a plan that would house most 6th through 8th graders, along with 11th and 12th graders, at facilities on the predominantly white west side of town. Ninth and 10th graders would be located at the current East Side High campus, the majority black area of Cleveland.

“The District has designed the Unified High School Plan to address specific concerns from the East Side community regarding East Side High’s legacy and the importance of maintaining a facility offering significant programming in that community,” the district’s Dec. 19 filing stated.

The filing came after both the U.S. Department of Justice and the private plaintiffs in the decades-long case made filings saying they opposed the district’s plan. Both argued that a court-ordered plan from May is a better solution.

The U.S. Department of Justice said the Cleveland schools’ 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 to U.S. District Court Judge Debra Brown stated.

But lawyers for the district say “mandatory reassignment of students has already failed and resulted in tremendous loss of white students in the District over a twenty-year period – a fact the district court ignored and the Plaintiff-Parties have failed to address. Testimony regarding anticipated white flight in the District under the district court’s mandatory reassignment plan is not speculative; it based on historical evidence from this district.”

The district is currently 68 percent African-American and 27 percent white.

Court documents state that a hearing by Brown on the district’s latest proposal is expected to be held in January.

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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.