Three years after suit filed, trial on MNPS rezoning plan begins

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 8:24pm

The first day of the trial in a lawsuit challenging the Metro Nashville Public Schools 2008 rezoning plan ended with a top MNPS official agreeing that two school zone clusters were more racially isolated under the assignment plan.

After more than three years since the case was first filed, both sides presented opening arguments Tuesday in the class-action suit Spurlock et al. v. Fox et al.

Attorney Larry Woods, who is representing plaintiff Frances Spurlock and a class of African-Americans claiming to be affected by rezoning in the Pearl Cohn and Hillwood school clusters, began presenting his case, which included calling Alan Coverstone, executive director of the MNPS Office of Innovation, to the stand.

Coverstone, a former school board member, was peppered with questions about his background and his stance on diversity. When asked whether the two specific clusters experienced more or less “racial isolation” after the 2008 assignment plan, Coverstone paused and said he had trouble looking at the plan in segments.

But U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp asked that he provide a more direct answer.

Coverstone then said that it appeared as though Hillwood and Pearl Cohn were “moving in the direction of [being] more” racially isolated. He added he wasn’t in favor of rescinding the assignment plan as a whole.

The court also heard testimony from Vanderbilt professor and researcher Brian Heuser, a Hope Gardens resident and parent who said he’s considering relocation after his home was rezoned from the Hillsboro cluster to the Pearl Cohn cluster.

Heuser testified that parents weren’t involved in the rezoning talks — and that the education of neighborhood children could be “compromised” by only having an option of attending low-achieving schools.

In his opening argument, Woods called the rezoning plan a “railroad train moving down the tracks” that the school board didn’t take enough time to review. Both sides agreed on showing the court a two-and-a-half-hour clip from a contentious school board meeting in July 2008.

According to Woods, a taskforce assembled by the school board used race as a factor when creating the rezoning plan. He said recent test results show a drop in TCAP scores at Pearl Cohn since the rezoning.

Metro attorney Kevin Klein countered Woods’ opening argument, by saying he “didn’t know where to start” when addressing the “factual inaccuracies” in Woods’ argument. Klein pointed out that giving parents within the Pearl Cohn cluster an option between Pearl Cohn High School and Hillwood High School was a “meaningful choice.”

Nearly all of Woods’ claims of racism, Klein said, had no proof to back them up.

Mayor Karl Dean is expected to be called to testify in the case on Thursday. MNPS Director Jesse Register was in the courtroom Tuesday and is also expected to testify in the case.

Woods estimated that his side of the argument could conclude tomorrow. Klein said he planned on taking five days to present Metro’s side.

2 Comments on this post:

By: ptotaximom7 on 5/2/12 at 2:33

I must take issue with Mr. Wood's opening statement (as printed by the CP). TCAP scores are not found at Pearl Cohn or Hillwood or Hillsboro. TCAP tests are only taken by students in 3rd-8th grade. (Elementary and Middle School Students).
Fact - TCAP scores dropped all over the city when the state revised the standards for math and english and the scoring for those new standards. So comparison of scores from 2009 to 2010 will not even be apples to apples but rather apples to oranges. The new TCAP standards came into play in 2010 the same year as the flood. The new scoring changed from three tiers to four tiers.
The 2010 flood affected more of the Gateway and End of Course (EOC) testing at the High School level due to the one week schools were closed for repair, clean up and to allow the adults the time to do the same at their homes. The closure of schools was at the beginning of May, the same week testing takes place for High School Students.
The rezoning plan that is in court right now allows CHOICE for students from North Nashville began in the fall of 2009-10 school year.

By: edsupp on 5/3/12 at 10:34

This court case is such a joke. Who would have thought that kids would have been zoned to schools that are actually close to their homes? This would not have been a race issue if the plaintiffs had not made it a race issue. This is a common sense issue. Kids should go to their neighborhood schools. If parents do not want their kids to go to those schools then they should move or have their child put in a private school. If they cannot afford a private school then they can apply to a charter school, magnet school, or even homeschool their child. Oh wait, that would still be in the neighborhood so that's a race issue too.