A federal judge has ordered the Cleveland (Miss.) School District to consolidate its secondary schools to achieve desegregation.
The U.S. Justice Department says that U.S. District Court Judge Debra Brown rejected as unconstitutional two alternatives that had been proposed by the school district, and decided that the only way to achieve desegregation is to consolidate Cleveland’s high schools and middle schools.
"The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally guaranteed right of an integrated education," Judge Brown wrote. "Although no court order can right these wrongs, it is the duty of the [Cleveland] District to ensure that not one more student suffers under this burden."
Under the plan approved by the court, the district will consolidate the virtually all-black D.M. Smith Middle School with the historically white Margaret Green Junior High School. The district also will consolidate the virtually all-black East Side High School with the historically white Cleveland High School.
"The court’s ruling will result in the immediate and effective desegregation of the district’s middle school and high school program for the first time in the district’s more than century-long history.” says Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division.
One of the plans that Cleveland district officials had proposed would allow students the freedom of choice to enroll at either high school as well as a cap on enrollment. A early college program would be offered at East Side to entice white students to enroll there. The judge concluded that the plan would not lead to desegregated schools.
"In order to work, a plan in the district must turn D.M. Smith and East Side High from one-race schools to just schools," Judge Brown says. "Based on enrollment numbers, freedom of choice has not worked to achieve desegregation in the district. Because [the] freedom of choice plan would leave D.M. Smith and East Side High as one-race schools, the plan is unconstitutional and may not be adopted."
The district's second plan would create a magnet high school program with a STEM theme, but the judge concluded that it was not feasible and even if it were, would take too long to put in place.
"It is not enough to say that the district has the potential to formulate a magnet program free from faculty, funding, or facility deficiencies," Judge Brown wrote. "...the Court declines to endorse a dedicated magnet plan based on nothing more than an expressed possibility that such a plan is likely feasible."
Opponents of the Justice Department plan argued that it could lead to white flight. The judge concluded that although school consolidation may lead to the departure of some white students to private schools, that possibility is not enough to reject the Justice Department plan, especially when the alternatives proposed by Cleveland would be unconstitutional.