Judge: Public comment will remain part of record - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Judge: Public comment will remain part of record in Huntsville Schools Rezoning fight


The judge presiding over the court battle concerning Huntsville City Schools rezoning plan ruled public correspondence and public comments will remain in the official record.

Attorneys for the school board filed a motion to exclude public comments made at the end of a two day hearing earlier in May.

Huntsville City Schools must get approval from the Federal Government before making any zoning changes because of a long standing desegregation order. The Department of Justice opposes the system's current proposal. A federal judge will make the final decision.

Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala stated that all parties were made aware of her plans to deal with public correspondence and comments during previous conferences.  The judge also stated if necessary she would ask both parties to prepare evidence addressing concerns raised by the public.

According to the judge's ruling, one letter stated students were being promoted at some predominately black schools even their performance did not "merit advancement". The letter also stated disciplinary action was not taken in an effort to help the board's petition for unitary status. The court asked for evidence to address the accusations. Friday's ruling did not include the evidence presented by the board or the Department of Justice.

Judge Haikala stated that half of the public comments supported the board's plan, while the other half did not. The judge also stated, "the individuals who addressed the Court uniformly acknowledged that, in the years since he became superintendent of Huntsville's public schools, Dr. Wardynski has instituted a number of programs that have benefited the school system."

The judge addressed board concerns that those making comments were not under oath, were not subject to cross-examination, and the claims were not properly authenticated. The court will not treat the statements as evidence, but as a guide for topics to explore.

Judge Haikala also stated her ruling will disappoint some members of the Huntsville community. She stated that by accepting the statements, she is allowing members of the community to be heard.

The order stated the judge will try to have a decision by July 2014 so the school system can move forward with building plans. She states the public comments have helped her identify areas of concern and keeping the comments in the record will provide transparency.

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