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Judge rejects Delta school district's desegregation plan

CLEVELAND — A federal judge has rejected a desegregation plan submitted by the Cleveland School District that relied on creation of magnet programs to attract whites to schools that are predominately black.

The Bolivar Commercial reports U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson’s ruling came this past week.

In Cleveland, two middle schools and two high schools have co-existed for decades. One set is all black; the other, school officials say, is well-balanced for race.

Last May, the school district filed a proposal with the federal court to desegregate the East Side High School and D.M. Smith Middle School. The school system wanted to introduce magnet programs at both schools to help attract white students from Cleveland High School and Margaret Green Jr. High School.

Magnet schools have a specific theme or mission that drives their curriculum, such as fine arts or science. Magnet schools still must be racially balanced.

The Justice Department object to the proposal.

Instead, Davidson ordered the Cleveland schools to abolish the attendance zones that used the old railroad tracks as a boundary and open the two high schools and two middle schools to all students.

“The high school and junior high school students should have a true freedom of choice to attend either high school and either junior high school,” Davidson wrote.

He said the school district will establish procedures for pre-registration to determine projected enrollment at each school for the 20132014 school year. He said pre-registration shall be concluded by April l.

“In the event that the existing facilities are inadequate to meet the projected registration, the Court will then address the matter with the parties as to an appropriate utilization of existing facilities,” Davidson said.

School board attorney Jamie Jacks said the decision means that “beginning next school year, every child will have the choice where they want to go school.”

The desegregation case dates back to 1965 when plaintiffs sued the Bolivar County school system, including Cleveland, to end white only and black-only schools. The school system has been under the federal courts oversight ever since.

In 2011, the school district petitioned the court to remove it from federal oversight.

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