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Friday, September 29, 2023

Judge cites Huntsville City Schools progress in complying with desegregation order

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The federal judge supervising the desegregation order governing the Huntsville City schools is praising the school system’s efforts to comply with court-ordered standards on faculty and staff.

U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Hakala said the city schools no longer has to provide regular reports on the system’s progress in hiring black administrators and faculty. The judge cited the progress that has been made since the 2015 order was issued and she expects the Huntsville City Schools’ good faith efforts to comply will continue.

The court described the hiring progress the system has made.

“In its most recent annual report, the Board stated that 44% of all certified administrators in the central office (12 of 27) are Black. The report reflects a nearly 50% increase in the number of certified administrators in the central office who are Black since the Board filed its first report under the Consent Order.

“Similarly, shortly after the Court entered the Consent Order, the Board reported that there were 13 Black principals in the school district. Most recently, the Board reported that 50% of the school principals in the district are Black. Based on its review, the United States has found that, since 2015, the Board’s data shows that the Board has selected Black and White assistant principal candidates for interviews at similar rates, and the rates at which candidates in the two groups are hired suggests no systemic racial discrimination in the assistant principal hiring process.”

The court found that the number of Black teachers has stayed “relatively stable” since the consent order was issued.

“The percentage of Black teachers in the district has hovered around 30%,” the court said. “The United States’ data review indicates that the Board has not systemically discriminated against Black applicants on the basis of race in teacher hiring.”

The desegregation lawsuit was filed in 1963 by Sonnie Hereford, and the current federal order was issued in 2015. School system officials today said they are looking forward to discussions with the Department of Justice — in order to present the judge with even more progress in the areas covered by the consent order.

The school systems attorney said the progress is a reflection of hard work by many people in the school system.

“The court has ordered the parties to look, not just at the faculty and staff factor, but facilities, student assignment, extracurricular activities, equitable access to course offerings and student discipline, which are the remaining green factors in the case and see which other factors may be ripe for unitary status,” said Christopher Pape, counsel for the Huntsville City Schools.

Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Clarence Sutton said on behalf of the system’s 3,000 employees and 23,000 students, they are in a good place right now and can continue to move forward. Sutton said they have a plan they hope to present to the public in January, showing the system is moving toward a “new mindset.”

He said he’s excited about the court’s Friday ruling, that it shows collaboration with the school system, working with the city, the Justice Department and the judge. Sutton said the journey toward excellence is continuing.

Sutton also acknowledged the historical roots of the case.

“Just looking at the historical aspect of this case, but also with schools, I think we’ve come a long way with the Huntsville City Schools,” he said. “I’m a representation of how well we’ve grown as a district, to have me as a superintendent. This moment is not lost on me and not lost on the 23,000 students that I represent. It’s an exciting time, we’re not where we want to be, but we’re sure taking the first steps to get where we want to be.”

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The court asked that the parties confer and provide a progress report by Feb. 1 on the “Green Factors” that are outstanding, like facilities, educational access and student discipline.

The system’s goal is to reach unitary status.

According to DOJ court filings, in a Florida case, “To obtain a declaration of unitary status, the District must show that its schools have: (1) fully and satisfactorily complied with the Court’s decrees for a reasonable period of time; (2) eliminated the vestiges of prior de jure discrimination to the extent practicable; and (3) demonstrated a good-faith commitment to the whole of the Court’s decrees and to those provisions of the law and the Constitution that were the predicate for judicial intervention in the first instance.”

The Huntsville Desegregation Advisory Committee notes the list of Green Factors:

The Consent Order addresses 7 Key Areas in Education (Green factors):

1 Student Assignment
2. Equitable Access to Course Offerings & Programs
3. Extracurricular Activities
4. Faculty
5. Transportation
6. Facilities
7. Student Discipline

The system has achieved partial unitary status on transportation.

School officials said today they plan to ask the court to consider the unitary status of facilities by the end of the current school year.

The court also approved the school system’s request to add classrooms
at Hampton Cove Middle School and Goldman-Schifman Elementary School.

The judge’s order did not grant unitary status to the faculty and staff, but said its efforts did justify relaxing reporting requirements.

“On this record, the Court suspends the Board’s reporting obligations as to faculty and staff found in Section V.D. of the Consent Order,” the judge wrote. “The Board’s efforts to date in the area of faculty and staff and its commitment to avoid a reversion to prior de jure practices warrants a relaxing of supervision in this area until the Court releases the Board from federal supervision of faculty and staff.”

The judge concluded her order by praising the system’s progress.

“The Court’s order today recognizes the Board’s good faith effort to fulfill its obligations under the Consent order in the area of faculty and staff, the United States’ diligent effort to review and evaluate the Board’s compliance, and the parties’ joint effort to address and resolve all questions that have arisen under the Consent Order with respect to faculty and staff. The Court thanks the parties for their hard work to date and for their effort to prepare their upcoming status report.”

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