Justice Department objects to school desegregation plan

CLEVELAND — The U.S. Department of Justice has objected to the Cleveland School District’s plan to desegregate two local schools.

The Bolivar Commercial reports the Justice Department filed the objection this past month with the U.S. District Court.

In 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.

“This desegregation case has now been pending for more than 47 years, during which time the district has failed to achieve the court’s directive to integrate its schools as soon as possible,” said U.S. Attorney Felicia C. Adams wrote in the objection.

Adams said the district’s proposal would “not integrate East Side and D.M. Smith as a whole, but to create insular magnet programs in each school that meet specified demographic targets.”

“Given the court’s mandate to desegregate Cleveland schools and the district’s well documented inability to integrate East Side and D.M. Smith through voluntary measures, the absence of any contingency plan for integrating these schools if the new magnet programs fail to achieve their objective should compel the court’s rejection of this proposal,” said Adams.

The government asked U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson to reject the school district’s proposal and ordered the district to devise a plan to fully integrate the two schools for the start of the 2013-14 school year. Davidson has not ruled.

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.

In the mid- to late-1960s, school districts across the South were sued for discrimination and given desegregation orders, which put them under the scrutiny of the Justice Department. A dozen or more school systems in Mississippi have petitioned the federal courts to come out from under such orders.

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