MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A mostly white Alabama city can't break away from a heavily black county school system to form its own educational district, a federal appeals ruled Tuesday in a desegregation case dating to 1965.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a judge was wrong to let the Birmingham suburb of Gardendale secede from the Jefferson County school system. The city is more than 80 percent white, while the court decision says the county system is heavily black.
U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Haikala ruled last year that Gardendale was discriminatory when it tried to form its own school system, but she decided to let a split go ahead anyway over a three-year period with certain conditions.
The appeals court agreed that a split would be discriminatory, but it said that means the city can't break away. Haikala abused her discretion in coming up with her own remedy rather than just denying the split based on her ruling that it was racially biased, the panel said.
In a tweet, NAACP Legal Defense Fund senior counsel Chris Kemmitt said equal access to education still isn't a reality for many black children decades after the Supreme Court's decision outlawing schools segregated by race.
"This court decision confirms the importance of our continuing efforts to ensure educational equity for all," Kemmitt said.
Gardendale's school board plans to appeal the decision, said President Michael Hogue.
"We believe our actions have always reflected only our desire to form a new, welcoming, and inclusive school system to help schoolchildren and parents succeed, and we will continue to fight to achieve this," he said in a statement.
The ruling revolved around a 1971 desegregation order that came in a lawsuit filed by black parents in 1965 requiring Jefferson County to desegregate its public schools.
While the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision striking down public school segregation in 1954, many white-controlled school systems in Alabama and other Southern states continued fighting integration for years afterward.
The move to form a separate school system in Gardendale originated as increasing numbers of black students from outside the city began to attend school in the area, the 11th Circuit's decision said.
In addressing evidence of racial bias, the appeals court cited posts from a Facebook page formed to promote the idea of a city school system for Gardendale. Leaders and members of the movement frequently expressed worries about demographic changes in the city's schools, the decision said.
Citing comments from private citizens on social media is unconstitutional and "a fundamental miscarriage of justice," Hogue said.
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