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United States v. Greenwood Public School District

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

July 15, 2019




         In 2017, the United States initiated its most recent periodic review of the Greenwood Public School District's (“District”) compliance with the Court's school desegregation orders and applicable federal law. After reviewing the information and data provided by the District, the United States advised the District that it has fulfilled its affirmative desegregation obligations under the Fourteenth Amendment and applicable federal law for a reasonable period of time and has eliminated the vestiges of past de jure discrimination to the extent practicable. Now before the Court is a Joint Motion [40] for Declaration of Unitary Status filed by the Greenwood Public School District and the United States.

         Procedural History

         On August 1, 1966, the United States filed its complaint and a motion for preliminary injunction against the District challenging its racially segregated system of public education under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000c et seq. The Court held a hearing on the motion and, on August 26, 1966, issued an order enjoining the District from promoting segregation in its schools and requiring the District to file a desegregation plan to “immediate[ly] start” the desegregation of all schools consistent with the standards set forth in Singleton v. Jackson Municipal Separate School District, 348 F.2d 729 (5th Cir. 1965).

         The District submitted several desegregation plans for court approval between 1966 and 1970, and the Court entered over ten school desegregation orders. The District and the United States actively litigated the constitutionality of these orders and filed several appeals with the Fifth Circuit.[1] On remand from the Fifth Circuit, the Court issued an Order on January 23, 1970, setting forth the requirements for desegregation that the District must implement to ensure that the District was not “maintaining any classrooms or sections in any school building on a racially segregated basis.” See Order [40-2]. The January 1970 Order also required the District to desegregate its faculty, extracurricular activities, transportation, and facilities. Id.

         In March 1970, the Court consolidated the case brought by the United States with a case filed by a group of private plaintiffs challenging the ongoing racial segregation in the District schools. See Lilly Russell v. Greenwood Mun. Sep. Sch. Dist., GC 6963-K. The private plaintiffs alleged that the January 1970 Order was unconstitutional, as the four racially identifiable black schools remained majority black under the Order. A few months later, on July 27, 1970 and August 18, 1970, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order and Supplemental Order rescinding the student enrollment portion of its January 1970 Order and ordering the District to submit a revised plan with district-wide senior and junior high schools and five attendance-zone-based elementary schools.

         The United States and private plaintiffs appealed, and the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded the case, requiring the District to implement a plan for elementary schools that will “accomplish a greater degree of desegregation.” Russell v. Greenwood Mun. Sep. Sch. Dist., 445 F.2d 388, 389 (5th Cir. 1971). In accordance with the Fifth Circuit's opinion, the Court entered an Order on August 16, 1971 creating five schools with grades 1 to 8.[2] Aside from orders amending and enforcing the student attendance zones, the January 1970, July 1970, August 1970, and August 1971 Orders (amended by the order on requiring free transportation) remain the operative orders that outline the District's desegregation obligations.

         The United States moved for supplemental relief in 1978 regarding inter-district transfers between the Greenwood Municipal Separate School District and Leflore County School District, and the Court consolidated these two desegregation cases for this purpose. On August 28, 1978, the Court issued an Order permanently enjoining the District from accepting transfers of white students from Leflore County School District to Greenwood High School.

         Between 1978 and 2017, the Court granted the District's motions to: amend attendance zones (Aug. 9, 1982 Order; July 28, 1993 Order); close W.C. Williams Elementary School (June 30, 2015 Order, Doc. 35); and reopen W.C. Williams as a pre-kindergarten through first grade school (July 21, 2017 Order, Doc. 37).

         For many years, the District submitted semi-annual reports pursuant to the Court's Orders. In letters dated April 21, 2017, December 8, 2017, January 29, 2018 and August 13, 2018, the United States requested additional information from the District regarding its compliance with its desegregation obligations. On May 16, 2019, the United States conducted a site visit to the District. The United States analyzed the information and data provided by the District and concluded that the District met its desegregation obligations.[3]

         Effective July 1, 2019, pursuant to H.B. 987, the Mississippi Legislature will administratively consolidate the Greenwood Municipal Separate School District and Leflore County School Districts. The Court dismissed the desegregation case against Leflore County School District in 2005. See Order of Dismissal [40-1]; see also United States v. Leflore Cty. Sch. Dist., No. 4:66-CV-0040 (N.D. Miss., Mar. 1, 2005).

         Legal Standard

         Courts have long recognized that the goal of the school desegregation process is to promptly convert a de jure segregated school system to a system without “white” schools or “black” schools, but just schools. Green v. Cnty. Sch. Bd. of New Kent Cnty., Va., 391 U.S. 430, 3442, 88 S.Ct. 1689, 20 L.Ed.2d 716 (1968). The standard established by the Supreme Court for determining whether a school district has achieved unitary status, thus warranting termination of judicial supervision, is whether: (1) the school district has fully and satisfactorily complied with the court's desegregation orders for a reasonable period of time; (2) the school district has eliminated the vestiges of past de jure discrimination to the extent practicable; and (3) the school district has demonstrated a good faith commitment to the whole of the Court's order and to those provisions of the law and the Constitution which were the predicate for judicial intervention in the first instance. See Missouri v. Jenkins, 515 U.S. 70, 87-89, 115 S.Ct. 2038, 132 L.Ed.2d 63 (1995); Freeman v. Pitts, 503 U.S. 467, 491-92, 498, 112 S.Ct. 1430, 118 L.Ed.2d 108 (1992); Bod of Educ. of Okla. City Pub. Sch. v. Dowell, 498 U.S. 237, 248-50, 111 S.Ct. 630, 112 L.Ed.2d 715 (1991).

         The Supreme Court has identified six areas, commonly known as the “Green factors, ” which must be addressed as part of the determination of whether a school district has fulfilled its duties and eliminated vestiges of the prior dual school system to the extent practicable: (1) student assignment; (2) faculty; (3) staff; (4) transportation; (5) extracurricular activities; and (6) facilities. Green, 391 U.S. at 435, 88 S.Ct. 1689; see Bd. of Educ. of Okla. City Pub. Sch., 498 U.S. at 250, 111 S.Ct. 630. The Green factors, however, are not intended to be a “rigid framework.” The Supreme Court has approved consideration of other indicia, such as ...

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