Attorneys urged to settle NAACP rezoning case

Friday, November 20, 2009 at 1:42pm

U.S. District Judge John Nixon urged attorneys Friday to settle the NAACP-backed lawsuit against the Metro school district's new student assignment plan that ended the cross-town busing of black children in Nashville.

As the school board rested its case, ending 12 days of hearings on the lawsuit, Nixon told lawyers for both sides to meet Monday to try to reach a settlement.

"Obviously, this is an important case to the community," Nixon said. "I'm going to ask you to make an attempt to settle this case. ... Each side has the possibility of losing this case. So come back and attempt to settle this case in the interest of the parties and in the interest of the community."

On the last day of the often-contentious hearing, schools director Jesse Register praised the student rezoning plan for offering parents choice of schools and for investing more than $5 million annually in additional teachers and guidance counselors and other improvements for north Nashville's schools.

"That can really turn schools around," Register said. "... I think it's a good start. This really creates an opportunity for high-quality schools."

The lawsuit accuses the school board of discriminating against black children by ending cross-town busing from north Nashville to Hillwood. The lawsuit asks Nixon to order the school board to develop a new plan that’s acceptable to both sides.

Experts for the plaintiffs--three black families--have testified the rezoning plan has isolated hundreds more children by race and socioeconomic status and contradicted decades of social science on how to teach poor urban kids. These witnesses cited 40 years of studies, including research in Nashville by Vanderbilt University’s Claire Smrekar and Ellen Goldring, showing that students learn less in schools where poverty is concentrated.

Register said he hasn't read academic papers by Smrekar and Goldring on the subject. But, parroting the testimony of school board members, he emphasized that parents are given the choice between putting their children on buses to Hillwood or sending them to school in north Nashville.

Of the 1,526 north Nashville students zoned last year for Hillwood’s schools, 1,094 have chosen to go to schools closer to home, according to the school district. The district is providing transportation to students who choose Hillwood’s schools.

Register said he sent social workers door-to-door to make sure parents understood their choice before the school year began. Of 3,200 students whose school zone was changed in north Nashville, only 17 families weren't contacted, he said.

"We wanted every parent in the district to make an informed choice, an educated choice for their children," Register said.

9 Comments on this post:

By: dogmrb on 11/20/09 at 1:59

His job depends on backing his employers, MBOE. They can find a way to settle this and I hope they will look to Dr. Register for expert advice. He didn't have to read the Smrekar/Goldring research. He already knew that its findings were consistent with all the other academic research in the same area based on longitudinal evidence. And if he had been the Director, he would have guided the MBOE to a better solution. Now it's his and the Board's chance to find a compromise and move Nashville forward. Otherwise, we're just going in a circle with one foot nailed to the floor.

By: bfra on 11/20/09 at 4:11

NAACP should be billed for the entire fiasco! If they don't pay, sue them.

By: Shuzilla on 11/21/09 at 2:44

Like a broken record: "Experts for the plaintiffs--three black families--have testified the rezoning plan has isolated hundreds more children by race and socioeconomic status and contradicted decades of social science on how to teach poor urban kids."

To satisfy the conclusions of "decades of social science" we'd have to either 1) ask the plaintiff families (who seem to be good parents with good students for children) to make the sacrifice to remain at John Early so to be a good influence on the hardened kids that are harrassing their kids, or 2) ask the plaintiffs to remain at John Early and bus the disruptive kids to Bellevue instead, so that they (the most in need of improvement) would not be isolated within a setting of poverty at John Early, where the plaintiffs kids would prosper without having them around.

Moving good, apparently middle-class students away from bad ones as policy flies in the face of the oft-quoted Smrekar/Goldring study. Why should the fact that all sides are African-American suddenly make segregating students by class a desireable outcome?

But applying "decades of social science" to a rezoning plan is not what this lawsuit is about. It's about a few families who want their children to NOT go to school with other's children who are less appreciative of the value of education, who create a climate that's not condusive to learning. The plaintiffs could just as easilly be white families as black.

The OP (original plaintiffs) wanted their children to go to Bellevue Middle and then to Martin Luther King. They wanted SPECIFICALLY to get away from the "poor urban kids" who were behaving horribly towards their children. They DO NOT want the children who behave in a threatening and intimidating manner to FOLLOW ther kids to Bellevue! The plaintiffs are not fighting for all inner-city kids, but for an exception for THEIR kids. I can't blame them.

If the OP family was white, having moved into the area around MLK so to be automatically fed into it, they'd be labeled racists and we'd be done with it. Not one drop of editorial ink would have been shed on their behalf if they cried about their zone being changed. Especially if they stated verbatim the same things about John Early students and faculty that the plaintifs have, which would have been declared "codewording" for racist views.

So the only compromise I can see that can be implemented consistently is to bus the worst students out to the suburbs, away from the "concentration of poverty," and leave the better ones at home in their neighborhood school. Is that what we want?

By: pswindle on 11/23/09 at 9:37

Is this called passing the buck?

By: localboy on 11/23/09 at 9:46

Exactly, pswindle - the judge realizes that if he rules the other side will take it to appeal...

By: kennyj on 11/23/09 at 12:32

A winning compromise has already been offered and rejected so that the NAACP could back a lawsuit by (only) 3 families in justification of their (NAACP) continued existence. Like the ACLU, Unions, etc., NAACP has outlived it's usefulness and needs to go away--they are too intent on squandering public money defending against their lawsuits.

Numbers and quotas of anything for their own sake are inherently wrong. The District is spending a lot of money to improve these schools, and will allow students from this District to attend the school of their choice. What more middle of the road could there be? There is no satisfying them.

The judge should make a decision, break this stalemate, and let the results go where they go. He should be deciding application of law, unbiased by personal beliefs, and have the backbone to accept the possibly of having the decision overturned on appeal. What does the Judge care? He has a job for life.

By: dogmrb on 11/23/09 at 6:49

It's been clear from the beginning if a court settlement is imposed, the other side will appeal and be more costly, etc. for everyone, both monetarily and emotionally.

But the Judge lived as a young lawyer in the South through the 50s and 60s, when folks like kennyj, said the same thing. Go away legal advocacy groups. You aren't helping, we'll take care of our negro folks. We know what's best.

The lawyers for both these groups probably make fees, if any, well below their private law firm peers and take on much more challenging and unpopular cases.

By: Shuzilla on 11/24/09 at 8:52

"But the Judge lived as a young lawyer in the South through the 50s and 60s, when folks like kennyj, said the same thing. Go away legal advocacy groups. You aren't helping, we'll take care of our negro folks. We know what's best."

The neighborhoods of the 50's and 60's were segregated. That was the driving force behind busing. The only restriction on who lives in the Bellevue area today is who can afford to, and Bellevue isn't Belle Meade or even West Meade when it comes to the cost of housing. Today, Bellevue has enough African Americans to make up 18% of Bellevue Middle School's population as a neighborhood school, according to these tables:

That's without the North Nashville students who chose to remain at BMS, who push it above 20%.

By: Concernedparent on 11/24/09 at 7:29

Shuzilla's comments are very insightful with respect to the plaintiff kids not wanting certain other of their neighborhood kids to follow them in choice or otherwise to the Bellevue schools. I think the issue is over what will be the default choice made for people who do not have the initiative or foresight to exercise anything that is a choice on their own. This is highly patronizing, but the system up until now relied on the presumption that people in the inner city needed to be protected from any default choice that would concentrate them in the neighborhood where they are. The cases in regard to "best practices" of avoiding concentration of poverty, one-race, and to spreading out kids are all in systems where it is actually possible to create schools that don't remain overwhelmingly poor or one race. In Nashville we are approaching the 76% poverty level in the schools, and there is no way to avoid the fact that evenly mixed students would create heavily poverty stricken schools. A question to be answered is whether the even mix of students, and their parents resources, spread to all the schools uniformly, would lead to a situation where not one school had the resources to mount a field trip to a museum, or have a band, or art programs, or anything exceptional at all. This sounds like the evils that were attempted to be wrought on the California schools by the Serrano decision (and prop 13 for that matter). The real other problem is this community is not furnishing the resources for those extras, much less the basics in education. Our property taxes are about half of the level of the good school districts in this country.