Natchez-Adams desegregation plan ordered in late 80s

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

Note: This is the second part of an explanation of the court order handed down July 24, 1989 and the case brought againt the Natchez-Adams School District to implement a desegregation plan. The first part of this story ran in Monday’s edition.

NATCHEZ &045;&045; On June 12-14, 1989, U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour Jr. heard the case the U.S. v. Natchez Special Municipal Separate School District.

In the case, the United States and three plaintiff-intervenors and their parents, on behalf of the whole class of black students attending school in the Natchez-Adams School District, along with their parents and guardians, were challenging that a new desegregation plan was needed in the school district.

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All three parties involved, the school district, the plaintiff and the plaintiff-intervenors, devised their own desegregation plans for the court to consider, each having their own experts help them.

Eventually, the court chose to implement a plan presented by the United States, but not without consideration of the school district and plaintiff-intervenors. In fact, many times the court ruled out certain options because they did not fit with what the school district wanted.

The court, through many statements made in the court order, showed confidence in the superintendent, Melvin Buckley, and the school district, specifically in saying the court would not address repairs to buildings, renaming the high school, mascots or school colors or any methods of publicizing changes or fostering public support but would let the superintendent and district decide those issues in a way that would be best for the district.

In the district’s plan, it suggested, instead of forced reassignments that might lead to &uot;white flight,&uot; it use voluntary desegregation through a magnet school program and majority-to-minority transfers.

The district suggested a single high school, using the South Natchez campus, like the final order demanded, yet the district proposed 18 months to get all students into one campus, housing students at both North and South until capacity problems could be solved through construction. The court implemented the same one high school system, but gave the district a month and a half instead of a year and a half to implement it.

The district proposed three zones for kindergarten through eighth grade &045; McLaurin, Morgantown and Central zones.

The McLaurin zone would house McLaurin for grades kindergarten through eighth and West would house grades kindergarten through fourth grade. The estimated enrollment for McLaurin was 44 percent black and 65 percent black for West.

In the Morgantown zone, Morgantown would house kindergarten through eighth grade with 41 percent black enrollment estimated.

In the Central zone, the district proposed using Northside to house kindergarten through third grade and Thompson for fourth through eighth grade, eventually closing Thompson and replacing it with North Natchez and changing the name to Central Middle School. But, the Central zone would remain at 100 percent black enrollment, something the court said did not promote desegregation of the district.

The district’s argument was it would implement a magnet program at the school and use majority-to-minority transfers to integrate the school.

The court sited the largest problem with the district’s plan was its &uot;exclusivity&uot; on voluntary desegregation from these two programs. The court said it would not desegregate the district. The court did not condemn such programs but said these options are usually parts of a desegregation plan that also includes mandatory elements. The court did not prohibit the district from implementing such programs, however.

The proposed magnet program would not desegregate Northside or Thompson but would only leave students not enrolled in the program at a 100 percent black enrollment school. Christine Rossell aided the district in formulating its plan and concluded the forced desegregation would cause 24 to 29 percent lost enrollment and &uot;white flight&uot; of 560 to 700 white students. While the court found Rossell’s conclusion &uot;well founded&uot; because she had predicted white flight at a near accurate rate in the U.S. v. Pittman case from Hattiesburg, the court said later in the order that while white flight was &uot;regrettable,&uot; that it would &uot;have the practical result of alleviating much of the interim capacity problems.&uot;

The court acknowledged it would be &uot;proper&uot; to consider a plan that would attract white students but that could not be the reason for choosing one plan over another if it would isolate many black students, leaving them in a segregated educational environment. And, although the court acknowledged a forced plan could cause substantial amounts of white flight, the district’s plan was &uot;very close&uot; to the Hattiesburg plan, U.S. v. Pittman, that was not accepted by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the plaintiff-intervenors plan devised by Michael J. Stolee, they also proposed a single high school but proposed housing ninth and 10th grade at the North Natchez campus and 11th and 12th grade at the South Natchez campus. The court found this undesirable because of high transportation costs between two campuses and because two campuses was not what the school district desired.

The plaintiff-intervenors proposed a two-zone system for grades kindergarten through eighth grade &045; a northeast and a southwest zone. In the northeast, Morgantown would house fifth through eighth grades, while McLaurin and Northside each would house kindergarten through fourth grades. In the southwest, Martin would house fifth through eighth grade and Thompson and West each would house kindergarten through fourth grade. While the zones were racially balanced by population, the court found the zones to be confusing and against the public interest.

The plaintiffs the United States, submitted four alternative plans designed by Larry Winecoff.

The first plan called for two separate high schools, which the court did not want to implement because it was not in the best interest of the school district or the students.

Plan two proposed a 10th through 12th high school, an eighth and ninth grade junior high and a two-zone elementary system with each zone containing three schools to house the kindergarten through seventh grade students.

The last two plans, three and four, included one high school for grades nine through 12 at the South Natchez campus, a junior high school for all seventh and eighth grade students at the North Natchez campus, and both used a two-zone system for grades kindergarten through sixth grade. But in the third plan, the northern zone had two schools and the southern three. In the fourth plan, there were two schools per elementary zone.

The fourth plan most closely mirrored that of the school district’s plan to have one high school and close four schools, which the court said all parties agreed on the closing of Prince and Carpenter, and in this alternative, every school’s racial composition would mirror that of the school system, 64 percent black enrollment, leaving no school identifiable to just one race.

The court found it &uot;feasible and educationally reasonable&uot; to use two elementary zones to bisect the community and combining all seventh through 12th grade students to desegregate the school system.

The court took the Winecoff plan, the fourth alternative, because it closely met what the school district proposed but made it feasible to desegregation.