Judge cites issues with school board, DOJ in re-zone ruling - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Judge cites issues with school board, DOJ in re-zone ruling

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A judge ordered the district take down information on its website criticizing majority-to-minority transfers. (Source: WAFF file) A judge ordered the district take down information on its website criticizing majority-to-minority transfers. (Source: WAFF file)
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Huntsville school leaders, parents, and the Department of Justice expected a ruling about the ongoing battle to re-draw the district's zoning lines. However, late Monday night, a federal judge said she doesn't agree with either plan, and raised concerns she still wants both sides to hash out.

The 107-page opinion published by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on Monday says that, bottom line, even with all the data and the layout of the district, she still cannot make a determination whether the district is operating a dual system or not – meaning, if the district is made up of two, black and white, or if it is one school system.

The judge said the district's commitment to the Johnson magnet program has been lukewarm, because the classes are offered in other schools - in turn, there is no incentive to encourage parents to send students there.

One issue she addressed is the fact that most schools in the district are predominantly African-American or white despite demographic shifts.

She ordered the district take down information on its website criticizing majority-to-minority transfers, and to remove references that say the district met desegregation requirements regarding teacher staffing, because the court has not ruled on that yet.

Judge Haikala also criticized the DOJ, saying it was stagnant in monitoring the district closely; and the district and the decades it went without submitting an annual report.

The judge's order also criticized what she called "inadequate community input." She called out the district for sticking with their own zoning plan even after getting community input.

School board member Topper Birney agrees with the judge in that sense, but said the DOJ didn't do their research.

"I don't think the community really knew what was going on," Birney said. "Some of the things I'm hearing from the other side - the legal department's demographer was only here one time. There is no way that you can come here for one day and get a good feeling for all 40 of our schools."

Education attorney Robert Lockwood said the judge had every right to issue the ruling that she did. He added that the judge's opinion is well-reasoned and in the best interests of the students.

"It's not an issue of legality, right or wrong," Lockwood said. "She just has the power to do that until a final decision is issued."

Some parents believe mediation is a good thing, as long as every student wins in the end.

"It's very worth it if in the end it's going to leave children in a better condition to receive education," said Parent-Teacher Association Council President Chaundra Jones. "That's why we send them to school."

Jones said everybody needs to "row in the same direction. If not, we will be rowing in circles. This gives all individuals an opportunity to look at the data and find out what the missing link is."

During mediation, both sides must discuss potential revisions to their plans, and figure out how to improve the school system for all students. The judge concluded her order by stating that she believes this district can do it.

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