Shelby County Schools lawsuit could mean big changes - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Kontji Anthony

Shelby County Schools lawsuit could mean big changes

A 45-year court battle involving Shelby County Schools may soon come to a head.

The district has been fighting a desegregation lawsuit since 1963.

"A year ago we decided to apply for unitary status, because we don't believe there's any vestiges of discrimination at all," Shelby County Schools Superintendent Bobby Webb said Thursday.

Unitary status means the courts would no longer monitor county schools to make sure they maintain racial balance.  Though the U.S. Justice Department accepted their application, a local judge made her own ruling, ordering the school system to maintain a racial composition that mirrors the entire district within a 15 percent margin.

"We felt she was in error and we did appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit and they did grant us a stay and granted us a hearing," Webb said.

The hearing happens in July.  Meanwhile, the Shelby County Commission is keeping close tabs on the case.

"(We) Would want to make sure that they're doing what they need to do to comply with federal court orders, and that they're doing it in a cost-effective way," Commissioner Steve Mulroy said.

Mulroy believes the money the district has spent on attorney fees through the years has been worth it.

"It was important to make sure the schools did comply with desegregation requirements," said.

If if the court of appeals sides with the local judge, Mulroy said, big changes could come.

"That could require possibly some significant redrawing of district lines."

The Court of Appeals should have a ruling by next fall.

Meanwhile, Webb said Thursday he was worried about the continued cost of the lawsuit.  Parents say this is about ensuring racial balance among staff and students.

We'll tell you how this one unfolds.

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