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Moore v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 20, 2017

M.C. MOORE,
v.
TANGIPAHOA PARISH SCHOOL BOARD,

         SECTION "B"(1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before the Court is the Tangipahoa Parish School Board's (“the Board”) “Motion for Unitary Status: Facilities.” Rec. Doc. 1455. Plaintiffs timely filed an opposition memorandum. Rec. Doc. 1456. The Board then requested (Rec. Doc. 1459), and was granted (Rec. Doc. 1461), leave to file a reply memorandum (Rec. Doc. 1462). For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that the motion for unitary status in the area of facilities (Rec. Doc. 1455) is provisionally GRANTED.

         I. APPLICABLE LAW

         In school desegregation cases, “the court's end purpose must be to remedy the violation and, in addition, to restore state and local authorities to the control of a school system that is operating in compliance with the Constitution.” Freeman v. Pitts, 503 U.S. 467, 489 (1992) (citing Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267, 280-81 (1977) (“the federal courts in devising a remedy must take into account the interests of state and local authorities in managing their own affairs, consistent with the Constitution”)). “‘[L]ocal autonomy of school districts is a vital national tradition'” and “[r]eturning schools to the control of local authorities at the earliest practicable date is essential to restore their true accountability in our governmental system.” Freeman, 503 U.S. at 490 (quoting Dayton Bd. of Ed. v. Brinkman, 433 U.S. 406, 410 (1977)). Before a school may achieve full unitary status, it must be free from racial discrimination in several areas, commonly referred to as the “Green factors”: student assignment, faculty assignment, staff assignment, extracurricular activities, transportation, and facilities. Green v. Cty. Sch. Bd. of New Kent Cty., Va., 391 U.S. 430, 435 (1968); see also Freeman, 503 U.S. at 486.[1] If a school district has achieved partial unitary status in one or more of these areas, the court “has the discretion to order an incremental or partial withdrawal of its supervision and control.” Freeman, 503 U.S. at 489-90. This is because “remedies must be narrowly structured to address the scope of a violation and . . . consequently, once the need for close supervision of a particular facet of a school desegregation plan ceases, a court must not continue to supervise that particular facet.” Flax v. Potts, 915 F.2d 155, 159 (5th Cir. 1990).

Among the factors which must inform the sound discretion of the court in ordering partial withdrawal are the following: whether there has been full and satisfactory compliance with the decree in those aspects of the system where supervision is to be withdrawn; whether retention of judicial control is necessary or practicable to achieve compliance with the decree in other facets of the school system; and whether the school district has demonstrated, to the public and to the parents and students of the once disfavored race, its good-faith commitment to the whole of the court's decree and to those provisions of the law and the Constitution that were the predicate for judicial intervention in the first instance.

Freeman, 503 U.S. at 491; see also Bd. of Educ. of Okla. City Pub. Sch. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 89, Okla. Cty., Okla. v. Dowell, 498 U.S. 237, 248 (1991) (“Dissolving a desegregation decree after the local authorities have operated in compliance with it for a reasonable period of time properly recognizes that ‘necessary concern for the important values of local control of public school systems dictates that a federal court's regulatory control of such systems not extend beyond the time required to remedy the effects of past intentional discrimination . . . .'”) (citations omitted). Further, “[a] district court in [the Fifth Circuit] does not dismiss a school desegregation case until at least three years after it has declared the system unitary.” Flax, 915 F.2d at 158 (citing Youngblood v. Bd. of Pub. Instruction of Bay Cty., Fla., 448 F.2d 770, 771 (5th Cir. 1971)).

         As to facilities, “the first remedial responsibility of school authorities is to eliminate invidious racial distinctions, ” for example, “with regard to the maintenance of buildings and the distribution of equipment.” Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 402 U.S. 1, 18 (1971). “Courts consider ‘facilities' synonymous with ‘school buildings, ' so they assess this factor by comparing the quality of different, racially identifiable schools within the district in question.” United States v. Jefferson Cty. Sch. Dist., 63 F.Supp.3d 1346, 1353 (N.D. Fla. 2014) (citing Thomas Cty. Branch of N.A.A.C.P. v. City of Thomasville Sch. Dist., 299 F.Supp.2d 1340, 1364 (M.D. Ga. 2004), aff'd in part, vacated in part, rev'd in part sub nom. Holton v. City of Thomasville Sch. Dist., 425 F.3d 1325 (11th Cir. 2005); Valley v. Rapides Par. Sch. Bd., 646 F.2d 925, 932, on reh'g, 653 F.2d 941 (5th Cir. 1981)).

         II. COMPLIANCE WITH COURT ORDERS

         The Tangipahoa Parish School System (“the System”) consists of thirty-one schools. Rec. Doc. 1455-1 at 1. With regard to those facilities, this Court has issued several specific orders. For example, on March 4, 2010, the Court ordered the Board to construct O. W. Dillon Elementary School. Rec. Doc. 876 at 2 (the “2010 Order”). On June 4, 2013, the Board approved a certificate of substantial completion of the school. Rec. Doc. 1455-3 at 2.

         The 2010 Order also required Court approval for all repairs to existing facilities exceeding $125, 000. Rec. Doc. 876 at 25. It appears that the Board substantially complied with this Order. See Rec. Doc. 1455-37 at 2-4 (summarizing all facilities-related motions and orders filed into the record between June 18, 2010 and August 31, 2016).[2]

         Further, the 2010 Order required the System to “take affirmative steps to eliminate any remaining vestiges of prior de jure segregation at its historically and/or racially identifiable black schools . . . .” Rec. Doc. 876 at 24. The Court then specifically listed fourteen (14) schools that were identifiable as “black.” Id. at 25. Of course, the names of some of those schools have changed, so the Board supplied the Court with a list of those schools with their current names. Rec. Doc. 1455-1 at 7.[3]The Board maintains that “it has complied with this requirement based on its fulfilment of its constitutional obligations to maintain all of its schools in an equitable and nondiscriminatory manner.” Id. The Court systematically compared the facilities below, using photographs supplied by the Board.

         The 2010 Order also recognized that the System reviewed the facilities needs at the schools previously identifiable as black and agreed to implement a plan to address those needs. Rec. Doc. 876 at 25 (citing Rec. Doc. 876-3 at 11). However, the funding for those projects depended on certain tax revenue or bonds. Rec. Doc. 876-3 at 13-14. Ultimately, these taxes were not made available to the Board. Rec. Doc. 935-1 at 1. Thus, the Court ordered that

those provisions of the court's Order (R. Doc. No. 876) that were to be funded by proceeds of the new taxes provided for in said Order, with the exception of the above-ordered new elementary schools and needed renovations and/or new construction at Kentwood High School for housing of the Career Education Center, shall be held in abatement pending further orders . . . . All other provisions of said Order ...

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