Federal Judge Henry T. Wingate Credit: Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press

The Franklin County School District is still waiting for a federal judge to decide whether it can be removed from a nearly 50-year-old federal desegregation order.

Despite the U.S. Department of Justice indicating in June that it would not oppose the release of the district, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate has not yet ruled on the matter.

Representatives from both the school district and the Department of Justice attended a four-day fairness hearing in August. At the hearing, the court heard from the school district’s witnesses and members of the community who were opposed to the lifting of the order.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Wingate, who has recently been barred from taking on new cases because of a large backlog, said he wanted more information before making a decision.

He asked the school district for more information and statistics regarding alternative school and youth court referrals, the district’s dropout rate, allegations of nepotism in the district and whether any teachers without certification were currently teaching in the district. He also asked the federal government to submit a position statement clarifying whether it would still support removing the district from the order.

On Sept. 1, the U.S. Department of Justice submitted a statement of its position that it would continue not to oppose the district’s motion to be released from federal oversight.

“Witness testimony (at the fairness hearing) indicated persistent gaps in communication between District officials and community members surrounding issues of hiring and discipline,” the Department of Justice wrote in its statement.

“However, the United States was encouraged to hear the District’s witnesses testify about the District’s recent incorporation of hiring committees designed to introduce multiple viewpoints into its hiring decisions and practices; their support for maintaining clear and consistent procedures for hiring and discipline and preserving relevant records; and their openness to communication with community members and District employees,” the statement continued. “The United States supports the District’s efforts to improve recordkeeping, transparency and communication.”

Mississippi still has a large number of school districts — 42 of 144 total, according to the U.S. Department of Justice — under desegregation orders. These orders were filed in the the 1960s and 1970s following the South’s reluctance to adhere to the Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

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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.