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School Board bid for relief from desegregation order going to judge


The School Board believes it has made substantial progress in fixing racial inequality in our public schools and wants to be let out from under some of the federal oversight it has been subjected to for nearly a half century.  

But the local NAACP disputes the board’s claims,  and says little has been accomplished in recent years to comply with a federal desegregation order dating from the 1960s.

U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Williams will decide who is right.

On Aug. 11, Williams ordered federal Magistrate Judge Shaniek Maynard to handle discovery in the case at the U.S. District Courthouse in Fort Pierce. An April 2018 trial date is expected.

The desegregation order, which was imposed in 1968 and modified in 1994, defines eight school district functions in which whites and blacks were not treated equally that will remain under court oversight until corrected.

The School Board believes it has created equality in three areas, and wants to be relieved of court oversight in those areas, filing for something called “partial unitary status” on July 31. The district cannot attain full “unitary status” until the court rules black and white students are treated equally in all regards and closes the case.

The local NAACP, which is the plaintiff in the case, responded to the district’s motion on Aug. 28.

The two sides could hardly be further apart.

The School Board brief says its facilities, faculty and staff meet either the 1994 order or standards set by the Supreme Court in two court cases that ruled on partial unitary status. 

The board claims it has eliminated discrimination “to the extent practicable.” It says it has “equalized or closed all previously African American-only schools,” and that “the few schools with relatively higher African American enrollments have facilities capable of providing access to the same quality of education as those schools with lower African American enrollments.”

The NAACP response states, “Even if this were true – which the NAACP disputes – the fact that the facilities within the School District are ‘capable’ of providing equal quality education is not evidence that the facilities do in fact provide such education.”

The School Board also claims it has attained equality in faculty and staffing. The 1994 order requires faculty and staffing reflect the overall black student population, give or take 9 percent. 

The order said the district should make a “significant effort” to attain the appropriate black faculty ratio, which it defined as hiring 20 percent to 40 percent black teachers each year until achieved.

In addition, the order requires that the school district show the number of letters of intent offered to black teachers, and the number refused.

The NAACP response brief said no such documents have been provided to them or the court, and asks for discovery, followed by depositions.

Black students comprise about 17 percent of the local student population but only about 8 percent of Indian River teachers are African American, according to figures compiled by Chicago law firm Husch Blackwell, which represents the School Board in the case, along with the board’s regular attorney, Suzanne D’Agresta of Garganese, Weiss, & D’Agresta in Orlando.

Husch Blackwell found that during the 2015-16 school year, 32 or 4.63 percent of elementary teachers were black, 31 or 13.54 percent of middle school teachers were black and 22 or 6.63 percent of high school teachers were black.

In its court filing, the School Board claims it “has made every effort to resolve these issues through negotiations [with the NAACP] but those efforts have not succeeded.”

The NAACP sees it differently, stating: “For at least a decade, the School Board has refused to work with the NAACP to accomplish the goals of the applicable desegregation Order, despite a court Order to do so. This demonstrates a lack of a good faith effort to comply with the desegregation Order on the part of the School Board.”

The School Board brief claims the court no longer has to oversee facilities, faculty and staff because it will “continue to exhibit a good faith commitment” to eliminate the “remaining vestiges of segregation,” and will soon pass policies to insure compliance.

The NAACP said there has been no good faith commitment and that claiming policies will be passed is “insufficient” proof they will be implemented and get results.

The School Board has never complied with the order, the NAACP said, evidenced by the lack of yearly reports required by the order. The court should not grant partial unitary status, but rather the 1994 order “must be made stronger and impose sanctions for failure to comply with the reporting requirements.”