School officials in Chattanooga, Tenn., have failed to abide by a 1971 court order requiring the desegregation of the school system’s faculty and staff, a federal district judge has ruled.
But in a decision viewed as a setback for the black parents who filed suit against the district, the judge also held that the school board has complied fully with the order’s provisions on the desegregation of students. He indicated that once the board comes into full compliance on faculty integration, he would declare the district unitary and end court oversight of its affairs.
“This case has been pending in this court for too long,” said U.S. District Judge R. Allen Edgar in his March 12 ruling in the 26-year-old case, Mapp v. Boord of Education of the City of Chattanooga. “A school desegregation case is certainly a special kind of case. However, there is no reason why it must remain pending forever.”
Judge Edgar held hearings last October on a series of motions filed by the plaintiffs and the school board in the long-running dispute.
The most recent phase of the case began in 1979, when the Chattanooga board voted to transform a predominantly black high school into a magnet school. The board voted in 1982 to close a second predominantly black high school, whose enrollment had been declining, and to transfer its students to a third, largely black school.
A few years earlier, the city had annexed a mainly white section of adjacent Hamilton County, including its schools. The Chattanooga board, however, decided against including the new schools in a desegregation plan that received final court approval in 1976.
In papers filed with the court, lawyers representing the black parents contended that the board’s actions on the black high schools and the former Hamilton County schools, its other decisions on school closings and construction, and evidence of continuing faculty segregation indicated a pattern of discriminatory intent. They asked the court to order the board to develop a new desegregation plan.
Meanwhile, the school board filed papers with the court in 1984 arguing that the district had complied with the 1976 order and deserved to be relieved of court supervision.
“Without serious question, the court finds that the board did in fact implement all aspects of the plan which had received court approval—except in the area of desegregation of faculty and staff,” wrote Judge Edgar last month in a 27-page opinion.
He noted that in 1971 the board complied with an order requiring that the racial composition of the faculty of each city school approximate the racial composition of the faculty districtwide. “Since that time, however, the board has apparently not felt constrained to maintain anything approximating that ratio,” he wrote.
Judge Edgar rejected the board’s position that, following its actions in in 1971, it was required only to hire and assign teachers and administrators without regard to race. “There is certainly no indication in any [other desegregation cases] or from the history of this case that once the plan’s faculty-staff ratio has been achieved, it may be forgotten,” Judge Edgar wrote.
But he rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments on the segregative impact of the board’s decisions on student assignments, school closings, and school construction.
“The plaintiffs seek a court order directing the board to submit yet another plan remedying the ‘concerns’ which they have raised,” he wrote. “Without saying so directly, plaintiffs’ criticisms of the board’s pupil assignments must be translated into a request for additional busing beyond that which is already being done under the current plan.”
“However, absent a constitutional violation, this court has no power to order further relief to counteract resegregation that does not result from the school system’s intentionally discriminatory acts,” he concluded.
A version of this article appeared in the April 09, 1986 edition of Education Week