Metro attorneys recently filed a motion to dismiss the long-running schools rezoning suit, hoping to avoid a new trial over allegations that the district intentionally sought to segregate students based on race.
For now, the case — which has dragged on for nearly three years — is set for trial in May before U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp. In a response filed Feb. 22, plaintiffs’ attorneys stand by claims that “significant segregation” of minorities resulted from implementation of a controversial 2009 student assignment plan.
“These are the same arguments they’ve been making for two years,” plaintiffs’ attorney Larry Woods said. “It’s time to get to the merits of this issue of whether the school board racially discriminated. Let’s have a trial and find out.”
In separate motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, filed Jan. 24 and Jan. 26 in federal court, Metro attorneys claim the school district has actually “become more racially and ethnically diverse overall” in the three years after the school board implemented the new student assignment plan. The motions are common for a defense to make before a trial begins.
The rezoning plan — approved by a contentious 5-4 board vote in 2008 before going into effect the next year — triggered immediate litigation in which plaintiffs argued Metro school officials “knowingly and intentionally used racial identification” to rezone African-American students away from affluent, predominantly white schools.
Testimony was initially heard in federal Judge John Nixon’s courtroom, but he has since recused himself from the case.
The suit, Spurlock v. Fox, highlights the situation of Jeffrey and Frances Spurlock, who contend the district’s plan re-zoned their African American daughter from a high-performing middle school in Bellevue to a low-performing school in historically black North Nashville.
In a memo supporting the defendant’s motion to dismiss, Metro attorneys claim Metro’s schools’ racial demographics “do not remotely approach the stark conditions of racial separation” found in cities where the U.S. Supreme Court has found segregation. They assert the district’s racial diversity has increased in the time between the 2008-09 school year and the 2010-11 school year.
Two figures they cite are:
• The percentage of all Metro schools with no single racial or ethnic minority group in the majority has increased from 28.15 percent to 36.03 percent.
• The percentage of schools with at least 10 percent or more of three different racial groups has increased from 42.96 percent to 50 percent.
The original suit, however, hinges on the situation with Pearl-Cohn and Hillwood high schools and clusters. For decades, African-American students in North Nashville near MetroCenter had bused across town to attend Hillwood, situated in the heavily white, more affluent West Meade neighborhood.
The district’s 2009 student assignment plan re-zoned these students back to their North Nashville “neighborhood school,” Pearl-Cohn. Still, the rezoning plan allowed these students to continue busing to West Nashville if they chose. The Spurlocks alleged they weren’t given that choice.
Metro’s motion to dismiss says the district’s data suggests the rezoning plan did not have a “segregative effect” on Pearl-Cohn. The high school’s African-American population has increased from 79.4 percent in 2008-09 to 80.5 percent in 2010-11.
African-American student percentages rose at three Pearl-Cohn cluster schools and fell at three others, Metro’s memo says.
Regarding Hillwood, Metro attorneys contend that rises or decreases in ethnic representation did not result in “racial isolation.” They claim white enrollment increased at five cluster schools between 2008-09 and 2009-10, but the white percentages were still below 50 percent at three of them. The other two schools are approximately two-thirds white, Metro claims.
Meanwhile, plaintiffs have amended their suit to allege that publicly financed, privately operated charter schools have perpetuated racial segregation in Metro schools.
According to plaintiffs’ data, the five Nashville charter schools operating in 2010-11 all had African-American populations greater than 90 percent. Eleven charter schools operate today.
“Charter schools are a new and rapidly growing phenomenon in Metro Nashville and elsewhere,” the complaint reads, “but the defendants are using them in part to perpetuate the racial and ethnic isolation they have created in the school system.”
Enrollment into Metro’s charter schools is based on state law. Until last spring, when the state approved a new open enrollment law, only students who qualify for free and reduced lunches were eligible for charter schools. Students who fall under this category are disproportionately minority.