“The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally guaranteed right of an integrated education,” said Judge Debra M. Brown in her opinion. “Although no court order can right these wrongs, it is the duty of the district to ensure that not one more student suffers under this burden.
In a motion filed in 2011, the Justice Department argued that railroad tracks running through the small Mississippi town have kept a de facto system of racial segregation in place, violating orders to desegregate dating back to 1969. From The Washington Post:
The Cleveland School District is divided by railroad tracks that separate white families, who largely live west of the tracks, from black families, who largely live to the east. Its secondary schools reflect that division: There is one all-black middle school, for example, and one all-black high school. Just over a mile away are a historically white middle school and high school.
As the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi put it, Cleveland — a town of 12,000 — has been running an illegal dual system for its black and white children, failing year after year to reach the “greatest degree of desegregation possible.”
Now Cleveland must consolidate its schools, integrating all its students into one middle school and one high school.
In her ruling, Judge Brown rejected two alternatives to consolidation suggested by the school district as unconstitutional. According to the Post, district officials argued consolidating the schools would result in white flight and proposed increasing diversity with “choice and magnet programs” instead.
“The district’s plans allowed for student and parent choice,” said a lawyer representing the school district in a statement. “If the board appeals, it would request that the existing open enrollment plan continue while the appeal is pending.”