District negotiates “fiscally responsible” desegregation order

This week, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee approved a comprehensive consent order in McFerren v. County Board of Education of Fayette County, which the Department of Justice negotiated with the Board of Education of Fayette County, Tenn., and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund to desegregate the Fayette County public schools.

“The parties’ diligence and creativity resulted in meaningful progress towards desegregation of the schools,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Their efforts demonstrate that a district can desegregate its schools in a fiscally responsible manner that ensures educational opportunities for all students.”

The order stands in stark contrast to one of the few remaining unsettled desegregation cases in the country involving the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona. In that case, millions of dollars will be spent on administrators rather than providing students with equal access to quality education.

The consent order requires the district to take the following steps:

• Close four of its seven elementary schools, including a racially identifiable white school and two racially identifiable black schools.

• Construct a new elementary school to be opened by the start of the 2014-15 school year.

• Revise its attendance zone lines.

• Implement a controlled choice program between two of its schools.

• Explore and possibly create a magnet program at the elementary school with the highest projected African-American enrollment.

• Continue intra-district student transfers that further desegregation among its schools.

The consent order replaces a previous consent order approved in 2012, as part of a collective effort by the parties to ensure even greater desegregation of the schools while achieving financial savings for the district. Before it can be declared unitary, the district must comply in good faith with its desegregation obligations for a minimum of three years, until the end of the 2016-17 school year, and eliminate the vestiges of segregation in its schools.

Since the Fisher plaintiffs first brought their case against TUSD, the District has spent over a billion dollars while underserved students in the District still attend substandard overcrowded schools.

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