CLEVELAND — The Cleveland school board said Monday that it is dropping appeals to a federal judge’s desegregation order and will proceed under that plan this fall.
The stunning announcement was made at a school board meeting that was quickly adjourned.
Board members made no comments during the meeting and most quickly departed afterwards.
“We are pleased to announced that we have reached a settlement agreement in principle with the private plaintiffs and the Department of Justice,” said George Evans, president of the board.
Evans said the district’s Multiracial Advisory Panel will continue to meet with its leaders. Evans also announced that the board has created a new athletic director position for the district.
“I am excited for this great opportunity to settle this 62-year-old case in providing equitable resources, support, and services to the students in the Cleveland School District,” said Sherry Shepard, parent and citizen.
“I feel that this is an excellent first step in unifying our community in moving forward and providing true educational oasis in the Mississippi Delta.”
Kierre Rimmer, Cleveland resident and CEO of Fly Zone said that he was in total agreement with the board’s decision. Rimmer said that this was a good move and it shows progress. “I’m looking forward to a unified school and a unified community,” said Rimmer.
“It has taken more than four decades for the Cleveland School District to comply with federal objectives calling for the dismantling of a segregated school system,” said Arlene Sanders, community member and an instructor at Delta State University. “I think our children as well as our community will benefit from a fully integrated school district.”
Sanders said that although the district is in full compliance, the community still has to stay involved to ensure that all children are treated equally within the school district. “So now the hard work begins,” said Sanders.
Starting in August, Cleveland Central High School will be the name of the new high school, which will be housed at the old Cleveland High and Margaret Green Junior High campuses.
At the old East Side High School site, Cleveland Central Junior High will serve as the new middle school for seventh and eighth graders.
Current East Side principal Randy Grierson has been named principal for the high school, and D.M. Smith’s principal, L’Kenna Whitehead, has been named principal for middle school.
For sports, the high school teams will be able to play on a 5A level and will be known as the Wolves, wearing purple and black colors that students voted on and selected earlier this month.
Sixth graders will be located at the elementary schools including Pearman Elementary School, Parks Elementary School, and Cypress Parks Elementary school, if they aren’t attending Bell Academy or Hayes Cooper.
The board said that it will seek to have appeals it has filed dismissed and it will no longer pursue alternative plans. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ordered hearings on the district’s appeal of the the May 13, 2016 federal court order putting the desegregation plan in place.
At community meetings the board had indicated it would prepare to implement whatever plan emerged from the court hearings. However, community members complained that the board’s efforts would make it difficult to have a successful start to the school year.
The district had proposed an alternate 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 originally 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.