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Judge Orders Desegregation in Mississippi Schools

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 15, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Fifty-six years after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated, "separate but equal" schools were a violation of the Constitution, the courts are still ordering schools in the state of Mississippi to desegregate. On April 13, U.S. District Judge Tom Lee ordered a school district to stop a program allowing students to transfer to schools outside their residential area leaving district schools and even classes effectively segregated by race.

According to Reuters news service, the Walthall County School District first came under a court desegregation order in the 1970's, which was followed by scrutiny from the Department of Justice in the 1980's regarding student transfers. By the 1990's, the school reportedly had made changes, but the schools still became "significantly more segregated." The DOJ filed suit, but the school did not respond.

Last year, Reuters reports, the school district rejected the government's settlement proposal to change the transfer policy and prevent classes being drawn up by race. On Tuesday, Judge Lee moved to end the practices that segregated students in the district's schools and classes. His order will require the district to significantly limit student transfers and require the district to use a computer program to randomly select students for classes, ending the classes that were commonly nearly all white or all black.

The DOJ was led to pursue action against the school district by the large shift in racial make-up in individual schools, unrelated the Department says, to shifts in population and due solely to the transfers of white students. The DOJ cited statistics at various schools within the Waltham District like those at the Salem Attendance Center. At that school in 2008, 66 percent of the students were white while a third were black. The DOJ says this was a major shift from 1992, when a majority, 58 percent, were black and 42 percent were white.

"It is unacceptable for school districts to act in a way that encourages or tolerates the resegregation of public schools," said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

The superintendent for the district declined to comment on the judge's ruling.

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