Justice chides court on Miss. desegregation case

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Department of Justice said the federal court overseeing a desegregation case dating to the late 1960s against a Mississippi school district has not done the job of enforcing its diversity compliance.

In a motion filed Monday, the U.S. alleges that the district has failed to dismantle the vestiges of legal segregation of its schools, something it was ordered to do in 1969.

Prior to that order, schools on the west side of the railroad tracks that run through Cleveland were by law segregated white schools. More than 40 years later, the justice department says students and faculty at those schools are still disproportionately white.

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Similarly, the department says, schools on the east side of the railroad tracks — originally black schools — have never been integrated. It says they remain all-black or virtually all-black. In most cases, the schools on the east side and west side are less than three miles apart.

Calls on Monday night after hours to school district authorities were not immediately returned.

According to a statement from the Justice Department, attempts to work with the school district were unsuccessful, so, the government asked the court to rule that it has violated the existing desegregation orders and federal law. The department also wants to court to order the district to devise and implement a desegregation plan expeditiously.

“It is intolerable for school districts to continue operating schools that retain their racial identity from the Jim Crow era,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “If school districts are not willing to work collaboratively to eradicate the vestiges of de jure segregated schools, we will ask the courts to take the steps necessary to ensure that students of all racial backgrounds have the opportunity to attend diverse, inclusive schools.”

Enforcing court-ordered desegregation of school districts is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

For example, on March 23, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi entered an order modifying the 1969 desegregation order governing the operations of the school district in Leake County, Miss. After a comprehensive review, the department determined that the school district continued to operate four essentially single-race schools.

After taking account of a capacity study and the input of more than 800 students, parents and concerned citizens who attended a community meeting, the Justice Department and district jointly requested that two schools close. They also asked that students and faculty be reassigned, and for improvements to the quality of education and extracurricular activities at the remaining schools.  The court’s order granted all of the modifications sought by the parties.