Students load a Cleveland School District bus outside of the new Cleveland Central High School.

 

CLEVELAND — Department of Justice attorneys visited Cleveland last week for the first time since the school district consolidated under a federal desegregation order.

The goal of the visit was to monitor the district’s compliance with the order issued in 2016, which mandated that East Side High School and Cleveland High School would be merged into one.

According to a plan adopted by U.S. District Judge Debra Brown, the DOJ will monitor the district’s compliance for at least three full school years.

The plan involves numerous provisions, such as taking “affirmative steps to reflect the history of the two legacy high schools in the new District-wide high school,” forming a multi-racial committee to help implement the proposed plan and continuing to use that panel to engage the community on how to continue to improve the consolidation process.  

Confusion swirled about whether the DOJ’s meetings with community members would be public. Overall though, the district indicated that the department’s visit was a positive one. 

Some in the community were anticipating a public meeting with the multi-racial committee, but at the meeting location DOJ attorney Aziz Ahmad said their intention was to individually interview community members in private.

“I felt positive that it was supposed to be an open meeting [with the multi-racial committee],” said Edward Duvall, a community advocate. “I don’t know if I misunderstood about them having an open meeting.”

A message seeking comment was left with the Department of Justice’s press office.

Duvall said he talked with attorneys about topics that could potentially become a problem, such as equitable suspension rates and staffing.

“We discussed issues, concerns that we need to look out for and stay on top of, things that may occur later on because it is kind of relatively early in the process,” Duvall said.

In previous school board meetings, Duvall has voiced concerns that the cultures of each school have not been equitably represented throughout the consolidation. This tension heightened during homecoming week — a time almost purely defined by tradition — which also coincided with the DOJ’s visit.

“Don’t try to destroy our heritage or redefine who we are. We’ve got two cultures coming together and we’re trying to create one culture,” Duvall said in an Oct. 9 meeting with the Cleveland School District Board of Trustees.

Board members did not comment on Duvall’s concerns during the board meeting.

Jamie Jacks, attorney for Cleveland School District, issued the following statement about the DOJ’s visit:  

“The Department of Justice requested a visit with the Cleveland School District October 12th and 13th in order for the DOJ to check in on the District’s new single middle and high school. The District arranged for the Department of Justice and the District’s counsel to interview teachers, principals, parents and students to assess how the transition to a single middle school and high school was progressing.  

“The Department of Justice and District representatives also toured the middle and high school campuses to see first-hand the transition from the Trojans/Wildcats to the Wolfpack. The District believes this was a positive visit and allowed the Department of Justice to see first-hand the overwhelming community, school, student and parent support for the Cleveland Central Wolves.”


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Kelsey Davis Betz is from Mobile, Ala., and currently lives in Cleveland, where she worked as a Mississippi Delta-based reporter covering education and intersecting issues. Kelsey has a dual degree in journalism and Spanish from Auburn University and worked as an editorial intern at Texas Monthly and a courts reporter at the Montgomery Advertiser. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report and is a co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.