By William C. Singleton III
Hoover students expecting to attend new city schools as a result of the latest district rezoning plan will have to wait at least another year.
Implementation of the city school system’s rezoning plan has been put off until the 2017-2018 school year at the earliest, the district’s superintendent said.
U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala recently gave preliminary approval of the city school system’s rezoning plan. However, the judge delayed implementation of the plan to make sure the school district, the U.S. Department of Justice and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund fully assess the impact of the rezoning plan on Hoover’s minority student population.
“Stated simply, the school district will not implement the proposed rezoning plan for the school year 2016-2017,” Hoover School Superintendent Kathy Murphy said.
Hoover school officials have been cooperating with Justice Department and NAACP Legal Defense Fund representatives as they rework the school system’s attendance zones.
Hoover and other Jefferson County school systems are under a long-standing consent decree implemented to address attempts by white communities to establish school systems to circumvent the federal desegregation of public education. For parties subject to the decree, any changes within a public school system that affect its black population must be submitted to the federal court for approval.
Hoover officials have maintained that growth within the district has created a situation in which most of its 10 schools are either at or nearing maximum capacity. Meanwhile, three of its schools are underutilized and have room to accommodate more students. For those reasons coupled with anticipated future growth in the southwest part of the city, Hoover education officials have proposed new attendance zones.
School officials held citywide public hearings and community meetings to get response to the rezoning plan before submitting it to the court. The plan has been revised several times, but the plan the board ultimately approved at its March 7 meeting affects more than 2,200 students – slightly less than 20 percent of the overall student population.
Haikala acknowledged Hoover’s efforts to minimize the impact of rezoning on its minority population. For example, the proposed zoning plan would correct “the district’s current practice of assigning students living in apartment complexes to schools well beyond their neighborhood schools,” according to the court order.
The latest rezoning proposal would affect students living in single-family dwellings as well, “the majority of whom are Caucasian in Hoover,” the order notes. The court also acknowledged that the district has “legitimate school capacity issues.”
However, Haikala stated that, “It would be premature to give final approval to the plan at this juncture.”
She said time must be given to weigh the impact of the rezoning plan on the desegregation order. More specifically, the school system must satisfy factors raised in the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, Virginia.
In that case, the high court identified six areas that must be considered to determine whether a school board has fulfilled its obligation in removing any vestiges of racial segregation. Those factors include ensuring that black students aren’t discriminated against in student assignment, facilities, transportation and extracurricular activities and that black workers and applicants aren’t discriminated against in hiring and promotion.
To satisfy its desegregation goals, the Hoover school system must account for opportunities such as magnet programs and transfer options that allow students whose race is a majority in their school zone to transfer to schools where they would be a minority.
Haikala instructed all parties involved in the case to submit written assessments of the Green factors by Jan. 17. She also instructed the parties to present a comprehensive plan for a path to unitary status. Achieving unitary status means a system has eliminated the effects of past segregation and no longer must operate under court supervision.
“The Court is confident that the district and the Hoover community will benefit from this assessment, and the Court anticipates that the parties will be better positioned to seek final approval of a student assignment plan for the 2017-2018 school year,” Haikala’s order states.