Just a few weeks ago, Hoover City school officials were finally ordered to file the reports required under section VII of the 1971 desegregation order that followed them when they broke away from Jefferson County Schools in 1988.
I’d been looking for those reports for a long, long time, taking for granted that Hoover was actually filing the reports, not knowing how to find them, and not knowing my way around PACER, the federal court document filing system, very well.
After a kind reporter friend showed me how to navigate PACER, and after finding Jefferson County Schools’ 2012 report and not finding Hoover’s, I submitted a public records request to Hoover City Schools’ public relations director, Jason Gaston.
Gaston replied to my request stating that Hoover wasn’t required to file those reports…that that part of the order didn’t apply to Hoover.
Hoover inherited the entire desegregation order, not just the parts it wanted to, when it broke off into its own school system. Didn’t it?
After spending the next couple of months asking questions of constitutional law attorneys, reporters, and members of organizations familiar with requirements of desegregation orders, I finally decided to ask the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District, Joyce White Vance, whether Hoover was supposed to have been filing these reports.
On November 10, 2014, Hoover filed its report for the 2013-2014 school year. All 471 pages of it.
Further, on November 12, the Judge overseeing the case ordered Hoover school officials to file reports for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 before January 30, 2015.
Other school districts associated with the original 1965 Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education case have been filing their reports all along. The city systems of Homewood, Leeds, and Trussville have all filed their twice-yearly reports (Hoover was supposed to have been filing twice-yearly reports as well). Jefferson County asked for and received permission to file yearly reports beginning in 2006.
Here’s a look at Jefferson County’s 348-page 2012 Report.
The Stuff That’s in These Reports and Why They’re Important
The reports that school districts are required to file allow not only the public but also school officials to see on paper what is actually happening on the ground in our classrooms and in our schools.
In simple terms, it’s akin to a budget or a food diary, though arguably these reports are much much more important.
The reports are designed to keep school officials constantly aware of whether vestiges of segregation, in the form of allowed transfers, class placement, hiring of teachers, and zoning of students, among other factors, are present in our schools.
Segregation can happen intentionally and unintentionally, and the actual numbers will reveal whether it actually exists.
It also allows folks who question whether segregation exists the opportunity to see proof.
After the Hoover Board of Education voted 4-1 to eliminate buses in July 2013, many community members questioned whether that action was aimed at students who live in apartments and rely on bus transportation to get to and from school.
Many of us asked for the data provided in these reports and were told by school officials that those numbers just didn’t exist.
Apparently those numbers weren’t so hard to produce after all.
What the Reports Reveal
Hoover’s report breaks down every single course offered in Hoover City Schools and how many students of each ethnicity are enrolled or assigned to each class and teacher.
One of the first things I looked for in Hoover’s report was whether a tip I received of segregated classrooms at Trace Crossings Elementary (the elementary school thought to be at the heart of the busing controversy due to continued white flight from the school that intensified after 4th grade math scores on the ARMT+ failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals in 2012) was accurate.
According to Hoover’s report, the tip I received was true.
Two first-grade classrooms at Trace Crossings Elementary contained no white children, while three other first-grade classrooms had nearly-equal numbers of black and white children. It is unclear why Principal Carol Barber allowed all of the white children to be assigned to three of the five classrooms, but it is likely that she will be called to answer for that action at some point in the future.
These numbers reveal truths that school officials are unwilling to share. That’s why these numbers are important.
Even though the Hoover Board voted in December 2013 to rescind their decision, the spectre of charging for buses still exists after the same board voted in April 2014 to charge those fees. The U.S. District Court will have the final say.
[Note that Hoover does not report Hispanic students separately. Technically, Hispanic is not considered an ethnicity. It is unclear whether Hoover has reported Hispanic students as “not specified” or “white”, though it appears Hispanic students have been reported as “not specified”.]
Alabama’s Desegregation Orders – Quick Primer
Alabama has 48 school districts that are currently under desegregation orders. Those 48 school districts are governed by one of seven cases, with the vast majority of these orders resulting from the 1963 groundbreaking Lee v. Macon County Board of Education case that served as an umbrella for lawsuits challenging school districts’ unwillingness to comply with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and at one time had more than 100 school districts attached to it.
This article from ProPublica’s Nikole Hannah-Jones, published in May 2014 marking the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka landmark decision on school desegregation, highlighted the oft-forgotten desegregation orders and their reporting requirements.
Dr. Eric Mackey, Executive Director of the School Superintendents of Alabama, was quoted in this September 2014 article saying he no longer saw the need for the orders, as there were no schools that weren’t fully integrated.
But simple integration wasn’t the only aim of court-ordered desegregation.
The desegregation orders put in place were put there to ensure that school officials did not operate a dual system of education. A dual system is one that offers one set of opportunities and level of education to black students and a different level to white students.
Huntsville City Schools has been embroiled in a court battle over zoning lines since earlier this year. Huntsville school officials proposed redrawing lines for attendance and closing down some schools.
The U.S. Department of Justice, who is a party to the court case that provides the means for oversight in decisions that could promote re-segregation, opposed Huntsville’s plan and brought their own plan to the table.
U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala, based in Birmingham, breathed new life into the court’s oversight, holding a two-day hearing, allowing public comments to become part of the official record, and coming down hard on the Huntsville board of education for not filing the mandatory annual reports that would have provided much of the base information needed to begin serious discussions about what is actually happening with Huntsville’s students.
And now it appears Hoover has been chided into filing the reports as well.
For more on Hoover City Schools changing demographics, check out The Integration of Hoover City Schools – The Numbers, published earlier this year.
Look for more on the subject of desegregation orders and the effect on schools in Alabama here on the Alabama School Connection.