Equity & Diversity

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Not Yet Desegregated, Court Rules

By Karla Scoon Reid — December 06, 2000 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A federal appeals court ruled last week that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., schools are not fully desegregated, overturning a lower-court decision that would have ended decades of busing just as the district was putting a school choice plan in place.

The Nov. 30 ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., was not unanimous. Two judges found that the district had achieved “unitary” status in some areas, such as student discipline and faculty, but called the district’s remaining predominantly one- race schools a “vestige of segregation.”

“We must decide whether the task of desegregating Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools has reached its end,” Judges Diana Gribbon Motz and Robert B. King wrote. “We hold that it has not.”

Judge William B. Traxler Jr. wrote a dissenting opinion agreeing with the U.S. District Court’s ruling.

A lawyer representing black members of the school community praised the ruling as an affirmation that the district has not provided equal educational opportunities for black students.

But leaders of the 103,000-student district, who weren’t seeking to be released from court supervision, are scrambling to determine whether they should continue with plans to end race-based student assignment next fall.

Board members met with Superintendent Eric Smith in closed-door, emergency sessions last week. As of press time Dec. 1, they had not commented publicly.

Maree Sneed, a Washington- based lawyer with Hogan & Hartson, a firm representing the school board in the case, said she was pleased the district had prevailed in its argument.

“We think that the court made a very careful and thoughtful ruling,” she said. “Now we have to say what it means.”

Historic Case

Charlotte- Mecklenburg, where minority students, including black children, make up 60 percent of the overall student enrollment, uses busing and magnet schools to desegregate its system as part of the historic 1965 case known as Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.

That case led to the landmark 1971 U.S. Supreme Court decision that permitted the use of mandatory busing to integrate schools, opening the way for court-ordered busing in other districts as well.

In 1997, white parents challenged the use of such tools, claiming their children were denied access to magnet programs because of their race. The parents later broadened their attack to include the district’s entire desegregation plan.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert D. Potter of Charlotte issued an injunction against the use of race for student assignment in the district and mandated that a new student-assignment plan be implemented in the fall of 2000. He declared the district “unitary,” or free of any indications of a dual education system for blacks and whites.

The school board appealed Judge Potter’s ruling, even as it began developing a complex plan of school choice. The district also was granted a year’s extension to start the new assignment plan.

Nora Carr, the district’s assistant superintendent for public information, said the board moved forward with the development of the choice plan last year following numerous public hearings in which parents had expressed the desire for more educational choices, neighborhood schools, and more stability about where their children attend school. The board adopted the plan in June.

The district planned to go ahead with a school showcase on Dec. 2 to allow parents and students to meet with faculty and staff members of every school. According to the school choice plan, next fall all students must select a school and will no longer be assigned to one based on their residence.

“Clearly, we’re going to need to make some decisions pretty quickly in terms of how to proceed,” Ms. Carr said.

The ruling will not have national implications because desegregation cases are based on the factual situations and legal obligations of individual districts, Ms. Sneed said.

Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in New York City who represents local black parents, students, and school staff members in the case, said the district likely would need to make changes to the proposed student-assignment plan.

The court’s ruling gives Charlotte-Mecklenburg the flexibility and authority to eradicate all remaining vestiges of a separate and unequal school system, she said.

“I think the Fourth Circuit Court ruling sends a message that a school system, especially one that acknowledges that there is more work to be done, should be allowed to do that,” she said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the December 06, 2000 edition of Education Week as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Not Yet Desegregated, Court Rules

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Reported Essay What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism in American Schools
Born and raised in India, reporter Eesha Pendharkar isn’t convinced that America’s anti-racist efforts are enough to make students of color feel like they belong.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Our Student Homeless Numbers Are Staggering. Schools Can Be a Bridge to a Solution
The pandemic has only made the student homelessness situation more volatile. Schools don’t have to go it alone.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How Have the Debates Over Critical Race Theory Affected You? Share Your Story
We want to hear how new constraints on teaching about racism have affected your schools.
1 min read
Mary Hassdyk for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion When Educational Equity Descends Into Educational Nihilism
Schools need to buckle down to engage and educate kids—not lower (or eliminate) expectations in the name of “equity.”
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty