UNC Center for Civil Rights Argues Pitt County School Desegregation Case in Federal Court

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On July 22 a trial over the issue of racial segregation of students in Pitt County Schools (PCS) will begin at the Eastern District Federal Courthouse in Greenville, N.C. The UNC Center for Civil Rights (CCR) is representing a group of African American parents and the Pitt County Coalition for Educating Black Children (the plaintiffs) to reverse a PCS student assignment plan that they assert resegregated several schools in the district. At the same time, PCS will seek a declaration of “unitary status” and an end to over four decades of federal judicial oversight. A school district is considered unitary when it has eliminated the effects of past racial segregation to the extent practicable.

This is the first major unitary status case in North Carolina since 1999. Over 100 school districts across the South are still under court supervision, and many advocates involved in those districts will likely be monitoring this lawsuit to see how the case unfolds. The UNC Center for Civil Rights, working with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law and Dechert LLP, has been involved in the desegregation case in Pitt Co. for over five years and will be representing the parents who argue that the district remains segregated and has not achieved unitary status, and that the court’s oversight should continue.

In the 1960s, a federal district court found that PCS was operating a racially segregated school system in violation of students’ constitutional rights. The court approved initial desegregation plans designed to “eliminate the racial identity” of the schools. Although the court retained jurisdiction, the lawsuit remained dormant for years. The case, Everett et al. v. Pitt County Schools, was reopened in 2008 when a group of white parents claimed their children were being discriminated against. In 2009, the federal court concluded that the desegregation orders were still in effect and ordered the district to “work toward attaining unitary status.” In 2011, a group of African American parents moved to stop a new student reassignment plan that they argued would actually increase racial segregation in Pitt County schools. Their motion was denied by the District Court. On appeal, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the parents in May 2012, ordering the District Court to rehear the motion under a different legal standard.

Subsequent to the appeals court decision, PCS has moved to be declared “unitary,” seeking an end to all further judicial oversight of the school system. That motion, along with the plaintiffs’ motion challenging the 2011 student reassignment plan, are the basis for the trial, which is expected to last up to two weeks.

For more information: http://www.law.unc.edu/centers/civilrights/.

-July 22, 2013

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