Judge orders mediation in Huntsville schools rezoning case; board to meet Wednesday
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The Huntsville Board of Education will hold a special called board meeting Wednesday, July 2 to discuss the latest in the school rezoning case. Tuesday, a judge issued a ruling, ordering both sides to go to mediation.
Wednesday’s meeting is at 9 a.m. in the board room at the Annie Merts Center, located at 200 White Street. Read this update on the meeting.
Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala issued a 107-page ruling, ordering both sides enter into mediation to examine all aspects of racial disparities across Huntsville City Schools.
The memorandum opinion filed by Judge Haikala addressed both the motion of approval of the proposed student assignment plan and “charted a course towards a declaration of unitary status.”
In the opinion, Judge Haikala stated, “On the current record, the Court cannot determine whether the Board does not operate a dual system.”
Even though the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education argued that the school district did not currently operate a dual system and was effectively desegregated at an earlier point in time, Judge Haikala said the record in this case is not as clear as the Board suggests, stating, “the fact that the district integrated the student bodies of many of its schools in the early 1970s does not automatically lead to the conclusion that the district does not currently operate a dual system.
“This much is certain. Currently, approximately 40% of the district’s student population is African-American, but few of the district’s schools reflect the overall racial composition of the district. Most of the schools in the district are either predominantly African-American or predominantly white. This too is certain: the district has experienced significant demographic shifts that have caused schools that previously were integrated and majority non-black to become, for the most part, predominately black,” Judge Haikala stated.
Unpersuaded by the arguments the Board made in favor of its student assignment plan, Haikala took a look at the Department of Justice’s plan.
“The United States’s proposed student assignment plans further desegregation and mitigate the effects of the current inequities in the district’s educational programs, but the plans pose risks to public school enrollment,” Haikala said.
Haikala stated that she feared misunderstandings about the United States’s proposals may create instability in the district, including flight to private schools, if the Court adopted one of the government’s plans.
With no plan that Haikala felt comfortable endorsing, she decided to gather more information about the school district and have the Huntsville City School Board and the Department of Justice seek mediation about a plan for seeking a declaration of unitary status for the school system.
Chief Magistrate Judge John Ott will oversee the process.
“If the parties are able to reach agreement on a student assignment plan that includes a meaningful expansion of the Board’s current proposal regarding educational programs, the parties may be able to advance more quickly toward an order approving a district-wide student assignment plan,” Haikala said. The two parties will also discuss the student assignment plan in mediation.
Haikala said about her decision, “Though it might be expedient to simply pick one of the zoning plans that the parties have proposed, the more prudent course is to address district-wide adjustments to school zones after the Court has complete answers to the questions that have arisen in this matter.”
Haikala ended her opinion by stating that there are many reasons to believe the future of Huntsville City Schools is bright. She said there are many reasons to believe the district will meet the challenges that it currently faces and will expand educational opportunities for all of its children.
The Huntsville City School Board released this statement about the ruling on Tuesday:
In her ruling, Judge Haikala did not adopt the plan proposed by Huntsville City Schools or either of the plans proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice. Rather, she ordered the parties to engage in mediation with regard to the issues presented to the court. As part of this mediation we anticipate that, for the first time since this case began in 1963, we, in collaboration with the Department of Justice, will be able to create a roadmap to unitary status that addresses goals and timelines for moving toward the return of control of Huntsville City Schools to local officials.
Of note, in her opinion, Judge Haikala said that the court’s end purpose must be to remedy the constitutional violation and to restore to state and local authorities control of the public schools.
In the coming days we look forward to meeting with Chief Magistrate, Judge Ott, to effectuate the goal stated by Judge Haikala to establish a roadmap to work continuously toward the ultimate objective – restoring state and local authorities to the control of a school system operating in compliance with the Constitution.