The UNC Center for Civil Rights argued a critical school desegregation case before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, Jan. 26. Representing several African American parents and the Pitt Coalition for the Education of Black Children, the center argued that the Pitt County (N.C.) School District’s 2011-2012 student assignment plan increases segregation and racial isolation in the county’s schools and violates the school board’s affirmative legal duty to remedy the vestiges of race discrimination in the district.
The original cases, which were brought against the then-separate city and county school districts, found that both districts maintained racially separate schools and ordered that the districts fully desegregate. The now-unified case, Everett et al. v. Pitt County Schools, was re-opened in 2008 when the school board sought clarification from the court on the status of the 1970 desegregation orders and the board’s obligations regarding those orders.
In 2009, the court concluded that the school board still had not completely complied with the orders to fully desegregate the schools or eliminate the vestiges of discrimination, and that it needed to address this delinquency: “It is time for the School Board to follow course and fulfill its obligation to attain unitary status so that it may reclaim complete control over its schools.”
Despite the court’s admonition, the board adopted a student reassignment plan in 2010 that failed to meet stated proficiency and capacity targets, according to Mark Dorosin, managing attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights. “The board also projected significant increases in racially-identifiable, non-white schools with low student achievement, maintained the presence of racially identifiable white schools, and opened a new elementary school that is one of the most racially isolated and lowest achieving schools in the district,” Dorosin said.
The Center for Civil Rights went back to court to enjoin implementation of the reassignment plan, but the motion was denied. The court’s approval of the 2011-2012 reassignment plan was the focus of the center’s appeal.
During the argument before the Court of Appeals, the Center for Civil Rights asserted that the district court applied the wrong standard of law when it failed to require the board to demonstrate that its actions are in compliance with its duty to eradicate the vestiges of the racially discriminatory system.
“By improperly relieving the board of the well-established legal burden imposed on districts like Pitt that are still under court order, the court also abdicated its continuing role to oversee and enforce the controlling law of the case,” says Dorosin. “Most importantly, by denying relief, the district court let the school board lock another generation of students into racially isolated schools, continuing the inequality and stigma condemned by Brown.”
A decision is expected from the Court of Appeals in the next few months.
-January 27, 2012