An Inclusive Education for All Students

April 3, 2012

The following post appears courtesy of the Civil Rights Division

Last week, a federal court in Mississippi issued an order requiring the public school district in Cleveland, Miss., to end the racial segregation of students in its schools, and to eliminate racial disparities in the composition of faculty at schools across the District.

In May 2011, the Department of Justice asked the Court to find that the District had violated its desegregation obligations, noting that while the District had been governed by desegregation orders for more than 42 years, predominantly black schools located to the east of the railroad tracks that run through the District had never been desegregated.  The United States further asserted that the ratio of black and white faculty at numerous District schools reinforced the reputation of those schools in the community as “white” or “black” schools.

The court agreed with the Department of Justice that Eastside High School – one of only two high schools in the District – was formerly a segregated black school by law, and “has never been anything other than a racially identifiable African American school” since.  The court similarly determined that there was “no data” to indicate that D.M. Smith Middle School, one of the District’s two middle schools and also located on the east side of the railroad tracks, “was ever meaningfully desegregated.”  The court observed in its decision that these two predominantly black schools are only 1.2 miles away from a high school and middle school with a substantial population of white students located to the west of the railroad tracks. 

With respect to the racial composition of faculty and staff, the court noted that school districts are prohibited from assigning to any individual school a ratio of black to white faculty and administrators that is so imbalanced as to support a perception that the school is a “black” or “white” school.  In this case, the court found that the ratio of black and white faculty at every school in the District deviated from the district-wide faculty ratio.  

Accordingly, the court ordered the district to submit a proposed plan to desegregate Eastside High School and D.M. Smith Middle School, and to integrate the faculty at each of its schools, by May 15, 2012.  The United States will then have 30 days to review the plan and confer with the District to resolve any objections to the plan.  If no resolution is reached, the United States can file written objections to the District’s plan within 20 days.   

The violations identified by the court in this case are not unique to the Cleveland, Miss.,schools.  The Civil Rights Division continues to enforce desegregation orders in 200 school districts, many of which raise issues similar to those found in this case.  For example, the Division entered into a consent decree with the Valdosta, Georgia schools last month addressing that school district’s failure to desegregate the faculty at one of its schools.  In January, the federal district court for the Southern District of Mississippi approved another consent order between the United States and the Wayne County school district addressing concerns about classroom segregation and impermissible transfers by white students from majority-black to majority-white schools. 

In all of these cases, and in the many others like them, the Division has taken seriously its obligation to ensure that the last remnants of school segregation are eliminated “root and branch” from all of our public schools.  Enforcement of the court orders mandating the desegregation of school districts formerly segregated by law is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. 

We will not waver in our commitment to ensure that each and every school district eliminates the vestiges of separate black and white schools.  We look forward to working collaboratively with the Cleveland School District and members of the community to implement the court’s order in a manner that fosters the continued growth and success of all students in the district.

Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available at http://www.justice.gov/crt/.