Center for Civil Rights Newsletter

Center for Civil Rights Newsletter: Wednesday, April 29, 2009

About the Newsletter

The Center for Civil Rights newsletter is a new publication about our work to further civil rights in North Carolina and throughout the South. In addition, the newsletter contains information regarding employment and pro bono opportunities, civil rights conferences and events at Carolina Law and beyond, and notable civil rights news and developments. If you are not currently receiving this newsletter and would like to subscribe, please email Sarah Krishnaraj at civilrights@unc.edu.

A Message from the Directors

On behalf of our Director, Julius Chambers, and all of us associated with the Center, I am pleased to introduce the inaugural edition of our Newsletter. The Center's staff members have barely enough time to do the work we are involved in. It follows that "telling our story" has a lower priority than meeting with clients, attending community meetings, organizing conferences, litigating cases, advocating for our causes in public forums and private channels, working with students and seeking financial support. All of these things, and more, are essential to keep our program work on track and our administrative apparatus working. The Center works to increase educational opportunities through racial and economic diversity and resource equity, and to empower communities to end economic neglect, racial exclusion, and political isolation. It fosters democratic participation in local, state, and national elections by supporting the franchise for all citizens. All of us believe goals of advancing civil rights and social justice are worthy. We do the work with pride and devotion. Yet we know sharing our news is vital to all of the Center's constituencies and to broadening the scope and impact of our work. Thus, we forward this Newsletter.

Professor Charles E. Daye, Henry P. Brandis Professor of Law

The Docket

School Desegregation - The Center represents the plaintiffs-four families and the Pitt County Coalition for Educating Black Children-in Everett, et. al. v. Pitt County Board of Education. With co-counsel William Simpson of Ferguson, Stein, Chambers, Gresham and Sumter, PA and John Brittain and Tricia Jefferson of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Center is fighting against any change to desegregation orders which currently require Pitt County Schools to desegregate its schools more effectively. The case is being heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The Center entered this case after a predominantly white parents' organization tried to force the school district to dismantle policies that sought to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity in the district's schools. Parents and concerned citizens, led by the Coalition for Educating Black Children, called Center attorneys seeking legal representation to protect the interests of Black students - in addition to other students of color, low-income students and English language learners - who are isolated from opportunity when their schools become segregated by race or class.

Pitt County Schools, like every school district in North Carolina, operated 100% segregated schools until lawsuits brought by Black families led to court-ordered desegregation in 1970. These court orders are still in effect. The Center argued to the court that these orders should not be lifted until the school district eliminates the vestiges of the segregated system. Nearly forty years since the orders were entered, Pitt County Schools continue to operate racially imbalanced, high poverty schools which lack access to critical resources and employ fewer licensed, experienced teachers.

The Everett plaintiffs believe that the current student assignment plans designed to increase diversity in the schools obey both the spirit and letter of the 1970 orders, and they are part of a necessary strategy to provide all Pitt County students with access to high quality teachers, sound education programs and other resources.

Read more about this case and see legal pleadings filed in the case.

Leandro v. State Hearing Calendared for April 29, 2009: Trial Court Summons State Board of Education to Account for "Academic Disaster" in Halifax County Public Schools Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning III has calendared a hearing in the landmark Leandro case for April 29, 2009. Citing "irrefutable evidence of a complete breakdown in academics in Halifax County Public Schools" Judge Manning's Notice of Hearing and Order provides "the Executive Branch the opportunity, initially at least, to exercise its constitutional authority over the Halifax County School system to remedy the academic disaster" that has long persisted in Halifax County Public Schools.

Background : Leandro v. State is North Carolina's statewide school adequacy case. It was brought against the State of North Carolina in 1994 by five low-wealth school districts - including Halifax County Public Schools - as well as students from those districts. The plaintiffs alleged that North Carolina's system of school finance - which requires county governments to pay for school construction and teacher salary subsidies - violated the equal protection rights of students in low-wealth school districts because they lacked the benefits enjoyed by students in wealthier counties, including better facilities and more highly paid teachers. The plaintiffs also alleged that the State was depriving hundreds of thousands of North Carolina students of their state constitutional right to a sound education.

In 1997, in a decision now called Leandro I, the N.C. Supreme Court rejected the plaintiffs' allegation that North Carolina's school finance system was unconstitutional. However, while the Court refused to require a school finance system that generated equal school funding among school districts, the Court declared that the North Carolina constitution requires the State to provide every student the opportunity for a sound, basic education and remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether the State of North Carolina was indeed providing a sound, basic education to all students.

On remand, Judge Manning ordered the State to show that it was providing a sound, basic education to at-risk students in Hoke County Public Schools, one of the original low-wealth districts who instigated the Leandro lawsuit. After a lengthy trial, Judge Manning issued a four-part decision detailing the State's failure to provide a sound, basic education to students in Hoke County. In 2004, the Supreme Court issued Leandro II, upholding Judge Manning's decision and authorizing the trial court to order a remedy against the State if the state legislature failed to implement constitutionally adequate reforms.

Since the 2004 Leandro II decision, the trial court has prodded the State to focus on failing high schools, failing middle schools, and now, district-wide failure in Halifax County Schools. Many believe that Judge Manning may be positioning the Court to order a remedy in this longstanding school adequacy litigation. If this occurs, it will be the first time the trial court has ordered the State -- as opposed to encouraging it from the bench -- to undertake school adequacy reform. For this reason, advocates from all over the state will be paying close attention to the proceeding on April 29.

Learn more about the Center's representation of plaintiff high school students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (read "Securing Adequate Funding and Resources").

Municipal Exclusion - Midway is a historic, African-American community that has existed on the outskirts of the town of Aberdeen in Moore County for several decades. Over the years, Aberdeen's municipal boundaries have continued to expand to include new growth around the town but its expansion has never included the Midway community despite numerous requests by residents for annexation. Instead, as the town's boundaries crept closer to Midway and began to encircle the neighborhood, residents remained a part of Aberdeen's extra-territorial jurisdiction, subject to the town's land use, zoning and planning regulations, but denied access to basic public services like water, sewer, police protection, and trash pick-up. More importantly, by being excluded from town boundaries, Midway residents were denied a political voice in the local government decision-making process that most directly impacted their lives.

The Center has worked with the Midway Community for several years in an effort to bring attention to their situation and assist the residents in mobilizing around the issues critical to the health and well-being of their community. As a result, grant funds were secured to provide Midway residents with sewer service, which was installed earlier this year. But annexation-- the ultimate issue of inclusion --remained.

In early 2008, Aberdeen considered annexing the community. Town officials determined however, that only a small portion of the Midway community met the statutory requirements for involuntary annexation. The Midway Community Association, led by President Maurice Holland, expressed concern about dividing the community and advocated for the annexation of all Midway residents. Mr. Holland and lawyers from the Center advocated for the community's interests at a Board of Commissioners meeting in January and secured support from town officials to seek a legislative annexation of the entire community.

Senate Bill 432 - Midway Community (Aberdeen) Annexation - was introduced by Senator Harris Blake on March 4, 2009 and passed the Senate chamber on April 8, 2009 by a vote of 48-0. The bill has been referred to the House of Representatives Local Government committee. View Senate Bill 432.

Legislative Update - The Center is actively involved in the current legislative debate surrounding the reform of two important areas of law on which our work focuses - municipal annexation and partition sales.

Annexation Reform: Prior to the start of the 2009 session, the NC General Assembly created the Joint Legislative Study Commission on Municipal Annexation. While many of the meetings were dominated by communities and individuals opposed to involuntary annexation, Center staff were in attendance to represent the interests of low-wealth, excluded communities. On January 6, 2009 senior managing attorney Mark Dorosin addressed the committee during a public hearing and provided written materials for their consideration. View his op-ed on this issue.

Approximately sixteen bills have been introduced seeking various reforms to NC's annexation laws. We were pleased to see the inclusion of several provisions that acknowledge the unique needs of low-wealth communities. They include: (1) lowering the signature requirement for voluntary annexation from 100% to 75% for low-income communities, (2) awarding priority points for CDBG and other grant funds for projects in areas that are annexed to provide water or sewer to low-income residents, and (3) requiring the annexation of "doughnut holes" - excluded communities completely surrounded by municipalities - that do not meet the statutory density requirements.

Center staff, in collaboration with the NC Justice Center and other civil rights organizations, continues to monitor the bills and potential amendments that may remedy the devastating effects of years of exclusion by nearby municipalities.

Partition Sales: The North Carolina General Assembly convened the Joint Legislative Study Commission on Partition Sales to review and possibly revise the state's partition statutes. The Center's work around heirs property preservation and land retention attracted the attention of the Study Commission, which invited Center attorney Mark Dorosin to testify before the committee on January 9, 2009.

Mark's testimony described research conducted by the Center which revealed several problematic trends in partition matters, including overuse of the forced sale process rather than the statutorily preferred partition-in-kind, conflict of interest issues raised by the dual appointment of the Petitioner's attorney as the Commissioner overseeing the partition sale process, and the assessment of attorneys fees and costs against the parties opposed to the partition. Mark also advocated for the committee to endorse a "buy-out" option that would lessen the likelihood that co-tenants opposed to partition will be dispossessed of their interest in the property.

Several bills have been introduced and are making their way through committee. The Center is working with a coalition of organizations, including the Land Loss Prevention Project and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, to provide additional information about heirs property and the potential impacts of the pending bills.

Eastern North Carolina Pro Bono Spring Break Project - The week of March 9th was an exciting time for the Center. Attorneys Mark Dorosin and Sarah Krishnaraj accompanied 20 law students on their spring break to eastern North Carolina for a four day pro bono project drafting wills and other advanced directives for low-income and elderly residents of the area. The trip was the culmination of planning and collaboration among Legal Aid of North Carolina, the UNC School of Law Public Service Programs, the UNC School of Law Pro Bono program, and the Center for Civil Rights.

The students worked under the direct supervision of legal aid attorneys from the Greenville and New Bern offices, serving approximately 40 clients by drafting wills, powers of attorney and living wills as well as providing assistance to clients through Legal Aid's Low Income Taxpayer Clinic. Students gained invaluable hands-on experience as they conducted client intake and drafted and executed the requested documents. The trip was a success and plans are underway to make this an annual Center program.

Calendar Call

UNC Center for Civil Rights Education Conference - On April 2, 2009 the Center for Civil Rights, in collaboration with The Civil Rights Project at UCLA and The Education Policy and Evaluation Center at the University of Georgia, convened 250 scholars, activists, school officials, policy makers, social science researchers, litigators, school board attorneys and students from across the country to explore the topic "Looking to the Future: Legal and Policy Options for Racially Integrated Education in the South and the Nation." The conference was designed to heighten the understanding of the United States Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (PICS).

The conference showcased cutting edge scholarship surrounding the critical question of how to legally pursue integrated, competent and effective educational experiences for all children enrolled in our nation's public schools. Five panels, featuring nineteen paper presentations, along with fifteen discussants and moderators, examined "Making the Case for Racially Integrated Education;" "Evaluating Socioeconomic-Based Student Assignment Plans;" "Finding Viable Legal Strategies for Racial Equity post-PICS;" "Building Political Will for Integrated Schools post-PICS;" and "Achieving Racial Equity through Strategic Public Policies."

Conference sponsors included The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development at UNC; the UNC School of Law; The Ford Foundation; North Carolina Advocates for Justice; The University of Georgia; Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey, & Leonard, LLP; Patterson Harkavy, LLP; Epting and Hackney; and The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.

More information about the conference and a video of the conference proceedings.

North Carolina Central Law Review Annual Symposium -On April 3, 2009, senior attorney Mark Dorosin participated in "The Crisis: Mortgage Lending and Home Foreclosures," at North Carolina Central Law School. Mark served on a panel focusing on the causes of the mortgage crisis, and in his comments discussed discriminatory lending practices including reverse redlining, steering of minorities into more onerous loans, and the unfair scapegoating of the Community Reinvestment Act.

Dicta

The Center is pleased to announce its 2009 summer fellows: Justin Anderson (NCCU), Najib Azam (UNC), Potso Byndon (NCCU), Nehmath Douglass (Campbell), Shayla Guest (UNC), Stephanie Horton (UNC), Angie Spong (UNC), and Charmaine Troy (NCCU MPA program).

Leah Aden, the 2007-2009 Center for Civil Rights Education fellow, was recently selected as a Fried Frank/LDF fellow. Upon completion of her fellowship with the Center, Leah will work for two years as a litigation associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP in New York, followed by two years as a staff attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. Congratulations Leah!

The UNC Center for Civil Rights now has a Facebook page. Please join our online community!

In the News

Employment Opportunities

The UNC Center for Civil Rights invites applications for its two-year fellowship program for recent law school graduates.

The Center will select a single fellow, who will be principally assigned to work in the Educational Advancement and Fair Opportunity Program, and would like to select a candidate who could begin full-time work on or before August 1, 2009.

Strong applicants will have a commitment to civil rights and social justice, excellent verbal and written communications skills, be self-directed, be able to manage multiple assignments simultaneously and work with people with diverse perspectives and positions, and exhibit leadership potential through professional experiences or law school activities.

Interested candidates should submit a cover letter, resume, law school academic record, three references, and two writing samples (at least one should be legal in nature) to:
Adrienne M. B. Davis
Director of Research, Community Services and Student Programs
UNC School of Law Center for Civil Rights
Attention: Civil Rights Fellowship Program
CB#3382, Law School Annex
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3382
civilrights@unc.edu
(Please do not fax application materials.)

Application review began on April 1, 2009. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. Additional Information.

Pro Bono Opportunities

There are ongoing pro bono opportunities at the Center for law students. Pro bono projects vary in time commitment and can often be completed off-site. If you are interested in volunteering to work on a pro bono project, please contact Mark Dorosin (dorosin@email.unc.edu).


To subscribe or unsubscribe to this newsletter, please email Sarah Krishnaraj at civilrights@unc.edu.