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School board votes to challenge court ruling

Nearly a year after a federal court hearing, the Cleveland School District received notice late Friday that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi ordered the district to consolidate its secondary schools. 

The Cleveland School District Board of Trustees had a special called meeting Monday night to discuss their options. 

According to Jamie Jacks, board attorney, the board unanimously voted to explore their options.

"They authorized counsel to investigate an appeal," said Jacks. 

The board sent home a letter to parents on Tuesday explaining the district had been ordered by the federal court to make these changes. 

According to the letter, "The Court did not provide a time line for implementation of these changes. The Board of Trustees does not agree with the Court’s decision and is investigating its options, including filing an appeal and a request that the current open enrollment plan continue during the appeals process. 

"The Board believes the Department of Justice’s plan would limit choices of both parents and students, disrupt proven successes occurring at all schools and ignore the interests of the community as a whole."

The letter explained the two plans that were rejected by the courts.

The letter also reads, "Cleveland High School has been described as an ‘educational utopia’ by a federal court, and in 2014 Cleveland East Side earned acclaim from Newsweek magazine. A national consultant described Cleveland’s track record and success in desegregation as ‘amazing.’ It is the desire of the Cleveland School District to continue this course of success for the betterment of all students. We are extremely proud of the accomplishments and successes of our educators, students and parents.

"The District pledges to you that it will continue to build on these accomplishments as it moves forward with this case. In return, the District asks all parents and community members to continue your commitment to our schools, as we strive to offer the best education possible for our students.

"The District will be in contact with all of its parents in the next week to schedule school meetings so that parents may ask questions concerning this case."

As of May 22, 2015, the district had a total enrollment of 3,723 students. Of those students, approximately 28.8 percent were white, 66. 7 were African American, and 4.5 percent were other races.

The district had not supplied more current numbers as of publication.

According to court documents submitted by Judge Debra Brown, "The court adopts the desegregation plan proposed by the United States and in view of the court's adoption of the United States' plan on this date, the parties are each directed to submit to the court a proposed timeline to implement the United States' plan in such a way to ensure the immediate termination of the district's dual system in its high schools and middle schools."

The timeline is to be submitted no later than 21 days from the entry of the order, which was Friday.

Rumors have flown throughout the state and country about the school district; one being East Side High School would be appealing. 

Because ESHS is not a party in the case, they are unable to appeal and the school will be following the district. 

Randy Grierson, principal of ESHS, said, "We aren't making any sort of comments. This is about helping children and making sure they get an education. We care about these kids and their educations."

There have been several articles and broadcasts about the consolidation efforts reporting false information and Cleveland Mayor Billy Nowell said he was disappointed. 

"The main thing to me is that whatever is best for our kids around here is how we need to go forth with this. I wish more things in these articles had been factual. They're coming from all over everywhere with different stories that aren’t factual. It's very concerning someone would think this (CHS is an all white school and ESHS is an all African American school) because it's not the case and has not been for many many years. But ultimately, we need to focus on whatever is good for our children because they come first," said Nowell. 

Last year, the district submitted two plans to Brown.

In Plan A both high schools would include grades 9-12 and would offer an education curriculum in compliance with the Mississippi Department of Education requirements. 

Additionally East Side High will offer two magnet programs within the school, including an International Baccalaureate Program for high academic achievers and an Early College Program in partnership with Delta State University. 

The IB program would no longer be offered to Cleveland High students, and any IB student must be enrolled at East Side. Students at East Side in grades 11 and 12 meeting the academic criteria of the Early College Program could attend Delta State University for one or two courses per semester. 

The district would pay the cost of enrollment, and the student would be eligible to earn college credits. Margaret Green Junior High School would continue to house the STAR program for high academic achievers. 

D.M. Smith Middle School would continue to utilize a $1.7 million School Improvement Grant, designed to improve both teacher and student performance. 

According to the recent court documents, "The United States contends that alterations to the IB program and creation of a new magnet program were already considered and rejected by Judge (Glen) Davidson; there is no evidence that the exclusive IB offering would encourage white students to enroll at East Side High; the Delta State program will not encourage desegregation; a 550 student enrollment cap could exacerbate segregation; and the proposal for middle schools makes no changes to the current system."

In the summary, Brown wrote in order for these plans to work, D.M. Smith and ESHS must go from one-race schools to just schools and based on the enrollment numbers, freedom of choice has not worked and therefore Plan A is unconstitutional and may not be adopted. 

In Plan B, Cleveland School District would have two high schools, Cleveland High and East Side High. 

Cleveland High would be designated a Science Technology Engineering and Math and Arts magnet school with a balanced racial mix reflective of the district's overall population with a reasonable deviation allowed. 

Students must apply to the STEM magnet at Cleveland High. 

Those students not selected for the magnet would attend East Side High. East Side would retain its IB program, and the Early College Partnership for students with Delta State University would be added. 

According to the Plan B, beginning in the 2017–18 school year, all district students in grades 6-8 must enroll at Margaret Green, except for the grade 6 students attending Bell and Hayes Cooper. 

The STAR program for high academic achievers at Margaret Green will be expanded. 

Margaret Green would implement a new STEM magnet program that will partner with local arts groups. 

In the 2017-18 school year, D.M. Smith Middle School would close. 

The adjacent Cypress Parks Elementary would use the D.M. Smith building and all middle school students in grades 6–8 would attend Margaret Green, exceptions being grade 6 students attending Bell and Hayes Cooper. 

In Friday’s opinion, the court found Plan B to be unconstitutional because, "it unreasonably delays desegregation in the district's middle schools; it would propagate within-school segregation at the new Margaret Green Middle School by maintaining an achievement grouping program that results in substantial under-representation of African Americans without sufficient justification; and the high school element of the plan does not promise to work and work now." 

The Department of Justice has suggested the plan should be a single consolidated school at Cleveland High/Margaret Green and a single consolidated middle school at East Side High. 

The U.S. estimated that this consolidated high school would open with approximately 1,098 students with a racial makeup of 62.9 percent African American, 32.4 percent white, and 4.7 percent other.

If these schools were consolidated under the proposed U.S. plan, they would need to be repaired. 

According to John Poros, an expert architectural design called by the United States, "The existing Cleveland High School facility has fair to poor conditions of interior finishes … difficulties with accessibility overall, and some deficiencies in facilities to support teaching." 

Poros also testified that CHS has a maximum physical capacity of 720 students. 

Poros said of ESHS, "The general building layout has a number of advantages in that most of the building is one story, the circulation is continuous and accessible, and the building has enough space around it to easily support additions."

 

Last modified onWednesday, 18 May 2016 13:18
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