The Integration Report, issue 9

May 22, 2008

The previous issue of TIR delved into the subject of faculty desegregation in the post Seattle/Louisville climate. Long considered an important aspect of desegregation plans by the Supreme Court, equitable faculty assignments across school systems remain a critical piece of the puzzle when considering a districts’ eligibility for unitary status. A recent district court decision from Shelby County, Tennessee serves as a reminder that faculty assignments continue to weigh heavily in judicial assessments. Viewed in a broader context, the Shelby County decision could represent a shift away from a growing trend towards granting unitary status to districts that may or may not have fulfilled all aspects of their desegregation plans.

Shelby County encompasses the metropolitan area of Memphis, Tennessee, though the city and the suburban school systems remain separate. In June of 2007, district court Judge Bernice Donald declined to release Shelby County schools from a long-standing desegregation order, ruling that the system still contained racially identifiable schools, disparate extracurricular activities, and racially disproportionate faculty assignments.1 Her lengthy decision is summarized in the following statement:

“The court recognizes the great progress the [Shelby County] board has made in desegregating its schools. However, the law requires more than progress and the passage of time. It requires the complete dismantling of all vestiges of past state-imposed public school segregation with the ultimate goal of achieving a unitary system.”

-Judge Bernice Donald, US District Court for the Western District of Tennessee

On June 12, 1963, twenty-one students filed a class action suit against the Board of Education, claiming that the school system was unconstitutional.2 Robinson v. Shelby County School Board of Education has undergone a number of permutations over the past thirty-five years, with one of the more significant changes taking place in July of 1968. Following closely on the heels of the Green decision, which delineated six factors – ratio of black to white students, and staff and parity in facilities, transportation, and extracurricular activities – to consider when designing desegregation plans, the Western District Court of Tennessee mandated that the proportion of white to black teachers and white to black students in each school should be within 10% of the district-wide average.3

Trends in student racial composition have fluctuated widely in Shelby County since the plaintiffs filed the desegregation case. For the 1966-67 school year, the county’s African American students comprised 39% of the total school-age population.4 Following decades of a sizable white influx into the county, by 1989 the black student population had decreased to make up just 14.9% of students attending Shelby County schools.5 Since then, that number has steadily risen, so that in 1996, African American students comprised 21% of the school system, climbing to 34.6% in 2005.6 These patterns of racial change mirror a larger national trend of rapidly diversifying suburbs (for more information, please see the link to a report entitled, The Last Have Become the First, in the Additional Resources section below).

Within the context of the overall racial patterns for the district, school level student composition remains an issue. In denying the district’s request for unitary status last June, Judge Donald cited enrollment numbers from 2004-05 showing that nine Shelby County schools were less than 10 percent black and that six schools were between 56 and 90 percent black. Only 17 schools of the 39 in the system fell within the 10% range around the district’s minority enrollment mandated by the 1968 order.7 Donald also expressed concern that plans were underway for the construction of a new high school in the county that ñ on opening day ñ would enroll a student population that was 88% African American.8

What’s next for Shelby County?
The legal battle is far from over. In late March of 2008, Donald denied a motion for a stay, indicating the school system is still required to carry out her July court order to continue the desegregation process in the district. To this end, she called for the appointment of a “neutral special master” to oversee continuing efforts to bring Shelby County towards unitary status in the areas of student and faculty composition and extracurricular activities.9 Community reaction to the decision has been mixed, with members of the Memphis Chapter of the Rainbow Push coalition supporting Judge Donald’s approach to the case, juxtaposed against several editorials calling for her to step back from the issue, citing cases of white flight that occurred during the Memphis desegregation process.10

While the Judge’s ruling may not be appreciated in all corners of the county, it seeks to take action against persistent state-wide patterns of segregation that were recently highlighted in a report from the Tennessee Advisory Commission to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. The report described similar issues of racial separation in Hamilton County/Chattanooga, where schools are more segregated today than they were when the district was granted unitary status in 1986.11 Private schools are one of the factors fueling the racial separation in Hamilton County. The Commission also found that the district’s white students were five times more likely to attend private schools than African American students, creating a separate and racially identifiable school system in the private sphere.12

The cyclical nature of segregation continues to pose challenges to those interested in furthering the creation of equitable, integrated school systems. Judge Bernice Donald’s decision strives to ensure that Shelby County fully honors its historic pledge to desegregate. In an era where many judges award unitary status in the face of evidence pointing to continued patterns of segregation, her stance is both important and provocative. As the courts continue to hear cases from school districts seeking unitary status, Judge Donald’s actions may serve as a guide for future judicial proceedings.

For next time…
The next issue of TIR will examine the results from a recent community survey in Louisville regarding the district’s continued pursuit of legally viable strategies for voluntary integration.

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
The Integration Report

1 Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, Case No. 63-4916. Retrieved from on May 14, 2008, p. 2.
2 Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, Case No. 63-4916. Retrieved from on May 14, 2008, p. 4.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid, p. 12.
5 “Common Core of Data,” figures retrieved from on May 14, 2008.
6 Ibid.
7 “Judge: Schools Still Not Mixed – Donald Keeps County System Under Federal Court Supervision” retrieved from on May 14, 2008.
8 Ibid.
9 Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, Case No. 63-4916. Retrieved from on May 14, 2008, p. 2.
10 “Judge: Schools Still Not Mixed – Donald Keeps County System Under Federal Court Supervision” retrieved from on May 14, 2008.
11 Flessner, Dave and Gauthier, Kelli. Racial Mix Differs for Schools of Choice. Chattanooga Times/Free Press, TN, retrieved from on May 14, 2008.
12 Ibid.


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News Summary

Please send us your news
Please send reports, documents, and decisions from your community to The Integration Report, Editor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, at Include web links if they are available.

Parents of Grand Prairie students claim living arrangement inquires amount to harassment
Parents at one Saint Landry Parish school are outraged. Students say school officials questioned students about their living arrangements. Officials say this was done to make sure students who attend Grand Prairie Elementary are going to the correct school.

Coach-ruling reasoning revealed
Replacing Amite High School’s white head football coach with a passed-over black candidate was necessary to bring “overdue compliance” with previous school desegregation court orders, a federal judge in New Orleans has found.

Judge orders city schools to provide information on English learning program
A U.S. District Court judge ordered the Chicago Public Schools on Thursday to provide more information about how the district teaches students who are not proficient in English.
The district’s desegregation efforts are governed by a 1980 consent decree that requires federal oversight. As part of the decree, the Justice Department is analyzing whether the more than 3,000 ELL students are receiving an adequate education.,0,6972424.story

St. Landry desegregation plan delayed
The U.S. Department of Justice has been ordered to submit a complete reorganization plan to the St. Landry Parish School Board on or before May 15. It is expected the plan will close, consolidate and rezone schools to further desegregation efforts.

Schools survive TUSD closure attempts
The issue of school closures is not going to go away. Ireland said a 30-year-old desegregation court order kept many schools off the list of potential closures. But last week a U.S. District judge released TUSD from the order, contingent on a revised post-desegregation plan

Black kids on buses may slip into MPS lore
A decision by the Milwaukee School Board last week to drastically reduce the amount of busing in the district will alter a fundamental relationship that has existed in this city for generations of students.

Grad school sees continued diversity in applications
Efforts of the school’s new associate dean for academic affairs and diversity, Karen Jackson-Weaver, who assumed the position last July, have helped increase interest from applicants of color. The school admitted 190 students of color out of 1,110 applicants, up from 169 students admitted last year.

TUSD released from ’78 desegregation order
A U.S. District Court judge has released Tucson Unified School District from a decades-old desegregation order, pending acceptance by the court of a post-unitary plan.

What’s best for JCM?
The future of Jackson Central-Merry High School (Tennessee) is key to the resolution of a 45-year-old desegregation lawsuit. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says the school – formed in part from the all-black Merry High School and currently majority black – has been neglected by the school system. The group says a new high school must be built before the lawsuit can be settled.

“Black Youth and Public Schools: Educated or Mis-Educated” dialogue held today
The Griot Collective of West Tennessee hosted a public dialogue series called “Black Youth and Public Schools: Educated or Mis-Educated” today.A panel of representatives from the education community discussed unitary status, disciplinary issues, minority recruiting and other topics.

Appeals court stays desegregation ruling
The ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati specifically stays the appointment of a special master to oversee the formation of a plan to meet the guidelines set by U.S. District Court Judge Bernice Donald in a July court order. The move comes just before the Saturday deadline Donald set for all sides in the 45-year desegregation lawsuit to agree on who would serve as special master in Shelby County, TN.

Jefferson school plan revised to offer more choice: Parents get more elementary choices
Jefferson County Public Schools is making more changes to its proposed student-assignment plan, reducing the number of elementary school clusters, in part to give parents more choice.

Education choices hard, chamber told
The Tangipahoa Parish School Board’s lead desegregation attorney urged Hammond business leaders Thursday to support future proposals aimed at bringing the public schools out from under longstanding federal desegregation orders.

Inching toward desegregation: Children of color still separated, still failing in Boulder schools
On Tuesday, the Boulder Valley School District will update the school board on its efforts to destratify the district’s schools, which have become increasingly clumped into schools that serve low-income children of color — particularly Latinos — and schools that serve affluent white children.

Citizens panel rips TUSD on deseg move
The citizens group charged with monitoring the Tucson Unified School District’s efforts to come into racial and ethnic balance has filed a 35-page report opposing the district’s recent efforts to close the decades-old desegregation court case.

Sixth-grade classes might be moved: Decreased population could ease Tubman’s problems, Bedden says
Richmond County (Georgia) school board members showed support Saturday morning for a plan that would eliminate sixth-grade classes at Tubman Middle School, keeping the school’s rising sixth-graders at their elementary school one more year.

Iowa redefines ‘minority’ in wake of U.S. Supreme Court decision
The Iowa Department of Education has redefined the term “minority” in response to a ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer that schools seeking racial diversity cannot use quotas to assign students to schools.

San Francisco student assignment
The district’s current assignment system attempts to create diversity among San Francisco’s public schools. Parents can request up to seven school choices, and assignments at in-demand schools are made based on a combination of factors including a student’s socioeconomic status and home language. “Now we have more segregation than ever,” Superintendent Carlos Garcia said, adding that the board will review the school assignment program this spring.

Stoneham, Massachusetts opts out of School Choice program, again
School Choice for the 2008-09 school year was discussed at length during last week’s School Committee meeting, and members, once again, opted out of participating. School Choice, part of Massachusetts state law, allows schools to open their services to students from surrounding communities, giving youth the choice of where they want to receive their education.

PPS considers policy on student assignment
Portland Public Schools is developing a formal policy to clarify the school district’s existing practice for assigning students to neighborhood schools and to establish guidelines for changing neighborhood school boundaries.

Elementary school delayed – Garner’s mayor calls Wake action to redirect money sad but not bad thing
Elected officials and community activists in Garner aren’t upset about the Wake County school board decision on Tuesday to delay the opening of Bryan Road, a new elementary school that has become mired in controversy.

Poll tracks parents’ preferences for gaining diversity: Jefferson district buoyed as it crafts plan
Nearly nine in 10 public elementary school parents in Jefferson County say it’s important to bring together students from different races and backgrounds to learn, according to a University of Kentucky survey released by Jefferson County Public Schools last night.

Task force traverses ‘minefield’ in school rezoning
One of the most controversial concepts associated with public education in Nashville is currently playing out in a small community task force. The Metro Nashville Public Schools Rezoning Task Force, formed in January, is charged with presenting a comprehensive student assignment plan to the Board of Education this spring.

Please send us your news
Please send reports, documents, and decisions from your community to The Integration Report, Editor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, at Include web links if they are available.

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Additional Resources for School Integration

The Last Have Become First: Rural and Small Town America Lead the Way on Desegregation, by Gary Orfield and Erica Frankenberg, released in January of 2008, is the latest in a series of CRP annual reports on desegregation trends.

Sheff Desegregation Case Web site
For more information regarding the Sheff desegregation case in Connecticut, please visit

The School Law Blog
Visit the School Law Blog for an important discussion of news and analysis of legal developments affecting schools, educators, and parents. Mark Walsh has been covering legal issues in education for more than 15 years for Education Week. He writes about school-related cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and in lower courts.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP) have co-produced the 2nd edition of their K-12 school integration manual entitled Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration; A Manual for Parents, Educators and Advocates. The Manual addresses the practical questions of what can be done to promote diversity and address the harms of racial isolation in schools.
To download the manual, visit or
To request hard copies or CDs of the manual and supplemental materials, please send an e-mail with your contact information and the number of copies requested to

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP/PDC) are currently distributing their collaboratively-written manual, Preserving Integration Options for Latino Students, a guide for parents, advocates and educators interested in promoting diversity and addressing the harms of Latino racial isolation in their schools.
To download the manual or for additional information, please visit CRP/PDF’s Web site at To contact MALDEF, please visit, or call 213-629-2512.

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Upcoming Event

The Dropout Crisis in the Northwest: Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis in all Communities with a Special Focus on American Indian and Alaska Native Students
Seattle, Washington
May 30, 2008
For more information, please visit

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The Integration Report – Staff Members

Editor – Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
Editorial Assistant – Jared Sanchez
Editorial Committee – Erica Frankenberg, Gary Orfield, Laurie Russman
Webmaster – John Khuu

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Key Terms

Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (1968) – Supreme Court decision that established six factors controlling whether a district could be considered desegregated: ratio of black to white students and faculty, and parity in facilities, transportation, and extracurricular activities.

Unitary status – a school district can be declared unitary once it has shown good faith in eliminating all vestiges of its previously segregated, or dual, system.

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The Integration Report is produced by the Initiative on School Integration at The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, and is supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute.

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