On April 12, 2018, Private Plaintiffs—parents of Black children enrolled in the Meridian Public School District, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (“LDF”) and Fred Banks, Jr. of Phelps Dunbar LLP—filed an opposition in federal court to the Meridian Public School District’s motion for a declaration of unitary status in this long-standing desegregation case. The District seeks to terminate federal court oversight of student, faculty, and staff assignment, as well as transportation, facilities, and extra-curricular activities, and a declaration that the District has satisfied the requirements for unitary status. The District further seeks to terminate the 2013 Consent Order which addresses the District’s disciplinary practices.
Plaintiffs object to the District’s motion for unitary status because it has not eliminated the vestiges of segregation as it was ordered to do more than 40 years ago. Inequity and racial disparities persist in student assignment, faculty assignment, and access to gifted and advanced placement curricula.
The 2013 Consent Order requires the District to administer discipline without discrimination on the basis of race and in a manner that does not further the segregation of students based on race. The Order also requires the District to (1) decrease exclusionary disciplinary consequences, (2) limit referrals to the juvenile justice system, (3) incorporate culturally responsive discipline techniques, support and reinforce positive behavior, (4) employ corrective strategies and interventions to keep students in classrooms, (5) ensure students and parents receive due process when the District disciplines students, and (6) provide all students with an equal opportunity to learn in a safe, orderly, and supportive environment. The District has failed to fulfill the requirements and the spirit of the discipline Consent Order, including failing to reduce racial disparities in discipline throughout the District.
February 4, 2019 Unitary Status Hearing
A federal court in Jackson, Mississippi will hold a hearing at which the District will have to demonstrate it has eliminated the vestiges of segregation and complied with the 2013 Consent Order. Meridian community members who wish provide information about the District can contact us at: (212)-965-2200, and also provide comment directly to the Court by submitting a comment card by January 22, 2019.
This school desegregation case began on May 10, 1965, when Private Plaintiffs sued the Meridian Municipal Separate School District on behalf themselves and a class consisting of all parents of Black students enrolled in the District. The suit sought to end the District’s racially dual educational system. On June 28, 1965, this Court allowed the United States Department of Justice to intervene as a plaintiff. This was eleven years after the Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Brown v. Board of Education, yet the District still had not ended its separate and unequal educational system.
In 1969, after several years of litigation, a federal court imposed a remedial desegregation plan, which remains in effect today. The 1969 Order required the District to change its practices in a number of different areas, including the assignment of faculty, staff and students.
Since the outset of the suit, progress in the District has been obstructed by “white flight” to segregationist academies and neighboring county schools. These schools are typically much whiter than the county and consistently wealthier, and their departure removes valuable resources from the county schools while increasing the racial imbalance in those schools.
This District is probably best known for its overly harsh and racially disproportionate discipline of Black children, which led to parental outcry in 2011. Along with reports of disproportionate and overly harsh discipline, there were also reports that police were functioning as a “taxi service” to ferry students to jail for allegations of school violations such as defiance and disrespect.