This week, lawyers representing African-American students in Alabama’s Jefferson County school district urged a federal court of appeals to reverse a judge’s ruling to allow a mostly white city to secede from the predominately Black school district.
Lawyers for the students argued Monday, Aug. 7, that the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Haikala must be overturned, as the judge herself found that the proposed secession by the city of Gardendale was motivated by intentional discrimination, according to AL.com. In addition, they contended that such a move would not only go against longstanding case law but also undermine the civil rights of Black students.
“The court’s order conveys a powerful message to other municipalities that they may be permitted to secede in the future, even if their secession is motivated by intentional racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the lawyers wrote in a 67-page brief filed by Monique N. Lin-Luse, of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., and former federal judge U.W. Clemon.
“In sum, one cannot cure the constitutional infirmity inherent in the creation of a public-school system for the purpose of excluding Black children by allowing the formation of a school system created for the purpose of excluding Black children,” they added.
The appeal comes just months after Haikala ruled in a April 24 court order that although some Gardendale residents had racist motives for wanting to separate from the Jefferson County system, she would allow the city to form its own school system — but only under certain conditions. These terms included appointing a Black American to the school board and devising a plan on how to prevent discrimination.
Haikala said she feared that if she blocked the proposed separation, Black students would bear the brunt of the blame. So, she permitted it to move forward.
Under her order, the Gardendale school system could begin running two elementary schools in the fall for at least two years and would later be allowed to operate both middle and high schools if leaders showed good faith in sticking to desegregation efforts, as mandated by a 1971 court order.
On May 30, however, Haikala stayed most of the order after the plaintiffs and Gardendale’s school board announced plans to appeal her ruling. AL.com reported that the school district would have a chance to file a brief of its own, as school board officials announced earlier this year that they would ask the Court of Appeals’ permission to begin operating all four schools as soon as possible.
“[We] will demonstrate on appeal that no one’s civil rights have ever been endangered by Gardendale’s separation efforts,” board members wrote. “With its own case on appeal, the Board hopes that ultimately it can deliver what our community has worked so hard for — a school system operated by an accountable and locally-appointed board of education.”
Patrick Martin, Gardendale’s superintendent, seemed unbothered by Monday’s brief, saying nothing in it came as a surprise.
“The Gardendale Board attorney team is preparing our response and plan to file it soon in accordance with the Court,” Martin told The Washington Post.