The takeover of two elementary schools by the Gardendale Board of Education will not happen in the coming academic year, after a federal judge issued a stay of her original ruling in the city’s attempt to break away from the Jefferson County Schools.
U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala agreed to motions filed by both Gardendale officials and by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represents the original plaintiffs in the landmark Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education case that resulted in racial desegregation of the county system in the early 1970s.
Both parties had asked Haikala to delay the ruling she issued on April 24 and amended a few days later. That order allowed Gardendale to do a partial takeover of the schools inside city limits; Snow Rogers and Gardendale elementary schools would have been under city control beginning this summer, while Gardendale High and Bragg Middle schools would have remained part of JefCoEd for at least three years, until Haikala was satisfied that Gardendale had made sufficient progress toward desegregation.
The Legal Defense Fund attorneys first asked for the stay, saying that the order should be delayed while they appeal her ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The LDF believes that Gardendale should not be granted its own municipal school system because Haikala found that there were racial motives among supporters of the breakaway.
On the other hand, the Gardendale board also asked for the stay while it files a cross appeal with the 11th Circuit, in which it plans to argue that Haikala should have given the city school board full control of all four schools right away. It also plans to argue that state law would allow the new board to take possession of the Gardendale High campus, which was opened in 2010 and built with proceeds of a bond issue by Jefferson County government, without paying JefCoEd. The county system has maintained that Gardendale should pay for a replacement facility. Haikala agreed with JefCoEd in her order, but she gave Gardendale the alternative of allowing the county to keep the high school and build a new school of its own.
Haikala agreed Tuesday to stay almost all parts of her order, except a part that allows all parties to set a timeline for discovery of facts relating to the “Green factors,” six ways in which a school system must be desegregated to be legally declared as having achieved “unitary status.” The term takes its name from a 1968 desegregation case in Virginia.
Complications From the Delay
One issue arose when Haikala agreed to stay the part of her order requiring Gardendale to appoint an African-American member to its board. That process had already begun, as board member Karen White resigned to make room for the new member. But Gardendale attorney Dana Hill said that if the board position remained vacant because of the stay, then state Superintendent Michael Sentance would be required to appoint someone to the vacant spot.
“We’ve reached out to the state superintendent for guidance,” Hill said.
Hill, who has experience with appeals before the 11th Circuit, was just hired by the Gardendale board last month to assist with its case.
With the stay in place, students in the entire Gardendale feeder pattern will continue to attend the schools they always have under JefCoEd management – except that grades for the two elementary schools might be realigned.
Haikala questioned JefCoEd attorney Whit Colvin about a plan the county system had discussed that would move students in grade K-2 to either Gardendale or Snow Rogers, and those in grades 3-6 to the other school. Colvin told Haikala the system would like to reconfigure the schools to alleviate crowding and to aid in desegregation.
JefCoEd Superintendent Dr. Craig Pouncey told BirminghamWatch that realignment was something his system had been discussing for quite some time, not only in Gardendale, but also in several other schools.
“We have several schools that are overcrowded, while others have available space,” Pouncey said. “This is in part from zones that have had fragments left from other breakaways. We would’ve already done this, but we’ve been tied up with this Gardendale thing for three years.”
Pouncey added that he was not committing to realignment yet, and no decision has been made as to which grades would go to which schools. Any realignment, including those in other parts of the system, would have to be approved by Haikala as part of the federal courts’ continuing oversight via the Stout case, which was first filed in 1965.
Gardendale Elementary has had crowding issues for at least two years and used four portable classrooms last year. Snow Rogers, on the other hand, has available space.
There’s no timetable in place yet for the 11th Circuit to consider either the NAACP appeal or the Gardendale cross appeal. NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney U.W. Clemon said the appeal process could easily take a full year.
The cutline on the photo of board members has been changed to correct Michael Hogue’s first name.