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Lee v. Macon County Board of Education

May 22, 2006

ANTHONY T. LEE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-INTERVENOR AND AMICUS CURIAE, NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, INC., PLAINTIFF-INTERVENOR,
v.
MACON COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Myron H. Thompson United States District Judge

OPINION

In this longstanding school desegregation case, the plaintiffs, a class of black students, obtained relief from race discrimination in the operation of a de jure segregated school system. The defendants are the Macon County Board of Education and its members and superintendent, as well as the Alabama State Board of Education, its members, the State Superintendent of Education and the Governor of Alabama. The Macon County Board of Education and its members and superintendent have moved for declaration of unitary status and termination of this litigation. Based on the evidence presented, the court concludes that the motion should be granted and that this litigation should be terminated as to the Macon County Board of Education and its members and superintendent.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Early Litigation

This case began in 1963 when several black students and their parents sued the Macon County Board of Education and its superintendent seeking relief from the continued operation of a racially segregated school system. On July 16, 1963, the United States was added as plaintiff-intervenor and amicus curiae in order that the public interest in the administration of justice would be represented. Lee v. Macon County Board of Education, 267 F.Supp. 458, 460 (M.D. Ala. 1967) (three-judge court) (per curiam). In a hearing before a single-judge court, the Macon County Board was enjoined to make an immediate start to desegregate its schools "without discrimination based on race or color." Lee v. Macon County Board of Education, 221 F.Supp. 297, 300 (M.D. Ala. 1963).

After actions by the State of Alabama to prevent implementation of this order, the Macon County plaintiffs filed an amended and supplemental complaint in February 1964 alleging that the Alabama State Board of Education, its members, the State Superintendent, and the Governor as president of the state board, had asserted general control and supervision over all public schools in the State in order to maintain a de jure segregated school system. The court found that it was the policy of the State to promote and encourage a dual school system based on race, and the state officials were made defendants.

Lee v. Macon County Board of Education, 231 F.Supp. 743 (M.D. Ala. 1964) (three-judge court) (per curiam). In subsequent orders, the Lee Court ordered the State Superintendent of Education to require school districts throughout the State to desegregate their schools. Lee v. Macon County Bd. of Educ., 292 F.Supp. 363 (M.D. Ala. 1968) (three-judge court) (per curiam); Lee v. Macon County Bd. of Educ., 267 F.Supp. 458 (M.D. Ala. 1967) (three-judge court) (per curiam). On June 24, 1970, the three-judge court in Lee transferred the jurisdiction over 35 school districts involved in the Lee litigation, including the Macon County School District, to a single district judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, where the school districts were located.

Over the next several years, this court granted several requests by the Macon County School Board to alter and change the boundaries of the school district lines or to alter school plans. In 1991, the board moved to consolidate all of the high school grades in Macon County into a single high school facility in Tuskegee. A group of students, parents and others who opposed the closure of the high school at Notasulga were granted leave to intervene. At that time, the student enrollment at Notasulga High School was 42 % white. The consolidated high school was projected to be 94 % black. The intervenors objected to the closure of the only nonracially identifiable high school in the district. On August 1, 1991, Judge Robert E. Varner of this court denied the board's petition as it applied to the Notasulga High School, but granted the petition in all other respects. That decision was affirmed on appeal. Lee v. Macon County Bd. of Educ., 970 F.2d 767 (11th Cir. 1992), reh'g granted and opinion vacated, 987 F.2d 1521 (11th Cir. 1993), aff'd by an equally divided court, 995 F.2d 184 (11th Cir. 1993).

On August 19, 2005, this court granted the board's motion to close two elementary schools and open a new elementary school in the Tuskegee area. Notasulga students were not affected. A motion to intervene opposing the closure of South Macon Elementary School was denied.

B. School District Profile

The Macon County School District is the only public school system in Macon County. As noted above, according to 2000 census data, Macon County has a population that is 84.6 % black. The Macon County Board of Education is comprised of five board members, two black females and three black males. The Superintendent of the Macon County schools is a black male.

There are seven schools in the district, including Lewis Adams Early Childhood Center, George Washington Carver Elementary School, Tuskegee Public Elementary School, Tuskegee Institute Middle School, Booker T. Washington High School, Deborah Cannon Wolfe School, and Notasulga High School. All of the Macon County schools are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The budget of the Macon County schools is almost $30 million per year.

During this 2005-2006 school year, 3,441 students are enrolled in the district, 3,368 or 98 % of whom are black. Almost all of the white students attend Notasulga where they now make up 14 % of the student enrollment. The Macon County School System employs 242 certified staff members, of whom 96 % are black. Another 168 employees are non-certified staff, of whom 95 % are black.

C. State-Wide Issues

Over the course of years, as litigation affecting the individual school districts was dealt with by the courts as separate matters, the state defendants (that is, the Alabama State Board of Education, its board members, the State Superintendent of Education, and the Governor of Alabama) did not participate in litigation affecting the Macon County school system. The question arose as to whether the state defendants were even parties in the local off-shoots of the Lee cases. Previous rulings, particularly Lee v. Macon County Board of Education, 267 F.Supp. 458 (M.D. Ala. 1967) (three-judge court) (per curiam), aff'd sub nom. Wallace v. United States, 389 U.S. 215 (1967), held that the state defendants were responsible for the creation and maintenance of segregated public education in the State of Alabama. The court found that state officials had "engaged in a wide range of activities to maintain segregated public education ... [which] controlled virtually every aspect of public education in the state." Lee, 267 F.Supp. at 478.

This court subsequently affirmed that, despite cessation of participation by the state defendants when the individual district cases were transferred, the state defendants continue as parties in not only the state-wide litigation, but in all the off-shoot cases. Lee v. Lee County Board of Education, 963 F.Supp. 1122, 1124, 1130 (M.D. Ala. 1997). The parties identified two issues remaining in the state-wide litigation, 'special education' and 'facilities.' The state-wide issues were resolved, and orders adopting the consent decrees were entered on August 30, 2000, and April 20, ...


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