HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - The latest chapter in the 51-year-old Huntsville City Schools desegregation lawsuit saga was penned late Monday when U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala rejected both the city and the Department of Justice's respective plans to redraw school zones.
Instead, she appointed Chief Magistrate Judge John Ott to oversee mediation between the parties as they examine all aspects of racial disparities across Huntsville City Schools.
Haikala criticized not only portions of Superintendent Casey Wardynski's court testimony but the district's 'good faith' efforts and the lack of 'meaningful' community engagement on the long-standing and beleaguered legal battle.
One could analyze each line of Hailkala's 107-page opinion, but the totality of her ruling can be summed up in a single quote:
"On the record before it, the Court cannot find conclusively that the Board does not operate a dual system," Judge Haikala wrote.
Meaning, in the long overdue quest for unitary status for the system, the issue at hand across Huntsville City Schools is still black and white in the opinion of the court.
It is that simple and yet entirely more complicated - an unfortunate dichotomy that bears consequences far beyond race and schools identifiable explicitly by racial makeup.
There are those - some of whom scolded for all intents and purposes - who can't or do not wish to discuss the latest legal movement in the case. Many of them are key players.
What comes next?
As one looking for reaction or commentary on the ruling essentially forced to look to the periphery for answers to 'what now' inquiries, a longtime educator could certainly provide beneficial perspective - especially coming from someone who intends to join the ranks of the embattled Huntsville City School Board.
"It's just kind of like, roll your sleeves up and let's keep going," says longtime educator Walker McGinnis. "They are calling for massive type moves and if they were done when they should have been done we wouldn't be going through this lurch and jerk right now."
McGinnis is going after the District 4 school board seat being vacated by Topper Birney.
McGinnis says he knows full well he's preparing to seek potential election into an evolving board facing indisputable change and challenge.
"To me it's not hard," McGinnis explains. "because I've had three-and-a-half decades in this system, I have seen everything you can imagine and I bring a historical perspective to this - I understand when this first got started, the attempts over the years - you know, for years we did nothing and I think it is the opportune time for me to run."
But McGinnis holds, despite the struggles clearly laid out, that the hurdle before Huntsville City Schools is not an insurmountable one.
"The judge has set the tone. I think it's a positive step. She has come out and said she wants us to have unitary status and we need to hone in on that positive cue," says McGinnis optimistically.
He says after all, our children are going to be the ones suffering through this in the long run - and what a long road it has already been.
"It behooves us to just roll our sleeves up and let's get on with it and work this thing out to everyone's mutual benefit. There needs to be discussions, there needs to be this, there needs to be that - let's go, let's do it," McGinnis finishes with confident bravado.
Kimberly Battle is also running for the District 4 school board seat. She offered this comment Tuesday about the ruling:
"While the U.S. District Court ruling provides an opportunity to improve upon the plans presented by both Huntsville City Schools and the Department of Justice, we should empower the superintendent and board members to continue
working towards a plan that will support the needs of this community. At present, it is easy to get lost in trying to figure out who won this round in court. However, it is more important for current and potential school board members to remain focused on finding the best solution for all children throughout this community as the work continues toward achieving unitary status."