WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice has asked the federal court overseeing a longstanding desegregation case against the school district in Cleveland, Miss., to enforce the previously-entered desegregation orders governing the district and compel the district’s compliance with federal law.
In a motion filed with the court, the United States alleges that the school district has failed to dismantle the vestiges of segregation in its schools, and that schools that were racially segregated by law in 1969, when the district was originally ordered to desegregate, remain so today.
Prior to 1969, schools on the west side of the railroad tracks that run through Cleveland were white schools segregated by law. More than forty years later, these schools maintain their character and reputation as white schools with a student body and faculty that are disproportionately white. Similarly, schools on the east side of the railroad tracks – originally black schools segregated by law – have never been integrated; and remain all-black or virtually-all-black schools today.
In most cases, the schools on the east side and west side of the railroad tracks are less than three miles apart.
After unsuccessful attempts to work with the school district on this matter, the United States has asked the court to rule that the school district has violated the existing desegregation orders and federal law, and order the district to devise and implement a desegregation plan that will eliminate the vestiges of the district’s former dual school system in an expeditious manner.
“It is intolerable for school districts to continue operating schools that retain their racial identity from the Jim Crow era,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “If school districts are not willing to work collaboratively to eradicate the vestiges of de jure segregated schools, we will ask the courts to take the steps necessary to ensure that students of all racial backgrounds have the opportunity to attend diverse, inclusive schools.”
Enforcement of the court orders mandating the desegregation of school districts formerly segregated by law is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. For example, on March 23, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi entered an order modifying the 1969 desegregation order governing the operations of the school district in Leake County, Miss.
After a comprehensive review, the department determined that the school district continued to operate four essentially single-race schools. After taking account of a district wide capacity study and the input of more than 800 students, parents and concerned citizens who attended a community meeting, the Department of Justice and the school district jointly requested the closure of two schools as well as the reassignment of students and faculty, and improvements to the quality of education and extracurricular activities at the remaining schools. The court’s order granted all of the modifications sought by the parties.