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Rival plans filed to end Cleveland schools federal oversight

schoolGREENVILLE — Attorneys for the Cleveland School District and the Justice Department will meet with a federal judge next week to discuss the ongoing lawsuit over how to desegregate the school system.

U.S. District Judge Debra M. Brown will meet with attorneys Feb. 20 in Greenville.

The two sides have filed competing desegregation plans.

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The Cleveland school district is seeking to come out from under federal oversight that has been in place since 1965, when plaintiffs sued the Bolivar County school system, including Cleveland, to end white-only and black-only schools.

The school district and the Justice Department are embroiled in what appear to be the same legal arguments raised in 2011. That’s when the Cleveland schools sued to end federal oversight.

The Justice Department proposes a school consolidation plan that would result in a single grade structure in the Cleveland School District, in which all students in grades 6-12 would attend one middle school and one high school beginning in the 2016-2017 school year.

The Cleveland School District has come with two proposals — one supports open enrollment with some additional programming; a second, calls for additional magnet programs.

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.

In 2012, the school district filed a proposal to desegregate 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.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson ordered the Cleveland schools to open the two high schools and two middle schools to all students and drop attendance zones defined as one on each side of the railroad tracks that split the town. The plan was never implemented.

The two sides were told to try again.

Legal battles over school desegregation have persisted since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. In the 1960s, school districts across the South were sued and given desegregation orders, which put them under Justice Department scrutiny. More than a dozen school systems in Mississippi have gone to court to come out from under such orders.





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