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Cleveland appeals order in desegregation case

A Mississippi school board has voted along racial lines to appeal a federal judge’s order in a long-running desegregation case.

The Cleveland School District filed papers Monday asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the order that requires campus consolidations. Board attorney Jamie Jacks said Tuesday that the district is requesting a quick appeal and is asking the 5th Circuit to put Brown’s order on hold while it considers the case.

» READ MORE: COLUMN: Most integrated school in Mississippi ruled to desegregate

Three white members of the local school board voted for the appeal, and two black members voted against it.

U.S. District Judge Debra Brown ruled May 13 that the district must combine East Side High, where all but one student is black, with Cleveland High, where 48 percent are white and 45 percent are black.

Brown also ordered the merger of D.M. Smith Middle, where all but two students are black, with Margaret Green Junior High, where 41 percent are white and 54 percent are black.

The appeal comes weeks after the district gave Brown a proposed timeline for merging the schools by the start of the 2017-18 school year.

Brown’s order was the latest in a case first filed in 1965. A previous judge approved an open-enrollment plan that let Cleveland students attend the school of their choice, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ordered a more thorough examination.

Across the entire 3,700-student district, about 29 percent of students are white and 67 percent are black. The state counts the others as Asian or Hispanic.

During a hearing in the case, the school district presented expert testimony that white parents were likely to flee to private schools. Beyond Cleveland, only four of 22 other districts in Mississippi’s Delta region have student bodies less than 80 percent African-American.

Brown wrote that the district provided “weak” evidence that it could voluntarily draw white students to East Side High and none at all that it could draw white students to D.M. Smith.

Merging black and white schools was a common desegregation method in the 1960s and 1970s. As recently as 2014, the U.S. Justice Department was still a party to 43 school desegregation suits in Mississippi alone.


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