Huntsville school system squares off with federal government in rezoning case


Barricades have been set up outside the federal courthouse in downtown Huntsville. Photo by: Tim Hanson/WHNT News 19

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - A hearing will continue today in the case involving Huntsville City Schools' push to rezone schools and the Department of Justice's opposition.

Court is due to start at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Huntsville, located at 101 Holmes Avenue.  U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala is presiding.

More than a dozen spectators were waiting outside the courthouse when the doors opened at 8 a.m. Friday.

Click here to read our live blog of the proceedings on

Huntsville City Schools has asked the judge to approve its rezoning plan, but the Department of Justice opposes it.  Huntsville is trying to get out of a 1974 federal desegregation order, imposed to make the schools more racially balanced.

WHNT News 19 learned Thursday morning permits for protests have been filed ahead of the school rezoning hearing in Huntsville.  However, it's been pretty quiet outside.

Police say the permits cover the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

School Board's Reasons

The school board says many things in Huntsville have changed since 1974.  It cited many examples, including administration changes, changes in how teachers are hired, changes within schools, changes within neighborhood makeup across city areas and several other reasons.

The school board also says the DOJ agreed to changes in the plan then backed away from them months down the road, for example, after construction had started on various school projects.  Superintendent Casey Wardynski talked with WHNT News 19 at length about the DOJ's plan, saying it contains changes that are impractical and outdated.

Many groups have spoken up in support of Huntsville City Schools, including the Huntsville Council of PTAs, the Northwest Cluster of PTAs and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.  All wrote letters to the judge, urging her to approve the rezoning plan.

DOJ's Opposition

The Department of Justice admits the proposed plan would make sweeping changes, but says it doesn't go far enough.  The DOJ says the plan further cements the boundaries between many of the identifiable black and white schools.

Meanwhile, some black church leaders, as well as black elected leaders say they oppose the school's rezoning plan.  They signed a letter and read it aloud at a church service in late April.  Mayor Battle and Superintendent Wardynski were in attendance.

The group claims the district did not include the African-American community when drawing up the new zoning lines that have been proposed.

WHNT News 19 will continue to bring you coverage throughout the week approaching the hearing, and we'll be there on Thursday to bring you the latest developments.

Timeline of Events

Here is a timeline of developments since May 2013 in this case. Click each link for more coverage:

-DOJ Approves Huntsville Schools' $194M School Building Projects (May 16, 2013)
-Huntsville City Schools Announces Rezoning Plans, Public Forums (Jan. 16, 2014)
-School District Hosts First Open House To Discuss Rezoning Plans (Jan. 30, 2014)
-School Board Approves Rezoning Plan, Dept. of Justice Opposes (Feb. 6, 2014)
-School Board Urges Parent Participation During Rezoning Process (Feb. 7, 2014)
-Department of Justice Files Motion Opposing Rezoning Plan (Feb. 26, 2014)
-Huntsville Superintendent, Dept. of Justice Continue Legal Fight (Feb. 27, 2014)
-Huntsville City Schools Files Response to Dept. of Justice Opposition (March 10, 2014)
-Exclusive: Wardynski Discusses DOJ's Opposition to School Rezoning (March 10, 2014)
-County Commissioner: Wardynski, School Board 'Disrespected' Him (March 12, 2014)
-Local Church Leaders, Some Elected Leaders Oppose School Board Plan (April 23, 2014)
-Huntsville Council of PTAs Releases Letter In Support of School Board (May 5, 2014)
-Wardynski Answers School Concerns From West Huntsville Residents (May 5, 2014)