Deal Could End Desegregation Case In Alabama School System

LaFAYETTE, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge will consider an agreement between the Justice Department, civil rights attorneys and school officials in an east Alabama county that could end more than 50 years of federal desegregation oversight of the system.

A consent decree between school officials in Chambers County, located on the Georgia line, the government and attorneys with the Legal Defense Fund includes construction of a new school and more opportunities for black students in the county of roughly 35,000 people, officials said.

The agreement was announced Friday to end a desegregation order that's been in place since 1970. It followed a previous, interim agreement reached in 1993.

“We are pleased to arrive at a consent decree that addresses the many concerns our clients raised as key to ensuring the effectiveness of the desegregation process in Chambers County,” said GeDá Jones Herbert, an attorney with the Legal Defense Fund. “It was particularly important that Black students in the district are afforded equal and high-quality educational opportunities in safe and modern facilities.”

The agreement said the sides negotiated for years to reach the proposed settlement, announced nearly 70 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the end of racial segregation of public schools.

“This proposed consent order reinforces the Civil Rights Division’s unwavering commitment to ensuring that all students receive the equal educational opportunities to which they are entitled regardless of their race or color,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement.

Under the agreement, the school district will form an advisory committee on desegregation that will have input on issues including the consolidation of high school students and improved opportunities for students in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

Before the end of the next school year, the district must pick a site to build a new, consolidated high school to replace LaFayette High School, which is heavily Black, and Valley High School, which has a large population of white students. The agreement said the new location “must not impose an unequal burden on students on the basis of race, to the extent practicable.”

Students from LaFayette, a mostly black city, temporarily will be transferred to the school in Valley, which is majority white, but not before the start of the school year after construction begins, according to the agreement.

The school system did not admit any purposeful segregation.