United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION REGARDING STATUS OF CONSENT ORDER
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
April 24, 2015, the Court entered a consent order in this
public school desegregation case. That order identifies the
steps that the Huntsville Board of Education may take to
eliminate from the Huntsville school district the vestiges of
racial segregation so that the Board may ask the Court to
conclude its supervision of the district. (Doc. 450). The
Huntsville Board of Education operated under the consent
order during the 2015-16 school year and the 2016-17 school
year. This opinion concerns the district's progress
toward the end of federal supervision over those two
obtain relief from federal supervision, the Huntsville Board
of Education not only must fulfill its obligations under the
consent order but also must demonstrate the Board's
willingness to maintain the goals of the consent order after
supervisions ends. The latter objective requires the Board to
demonstrate “good faith.” As the Court stated in
its June 30, 2014 memorandum opinion in this matter,
“To be entitled to the end of federal court
supervision, a formerly dual school system must be able to
prove that it has (1) complied in good faith with the
desegregation decree, and (2) eliminated the vestiges of
prior de jure segregation to the extent
practicable.” Duval Cnty. School, 273 F.3d at
966 (citations omitted). “The good-faith component has
two parts. A school district must show not only past
good-faith compliance, but also a good-faith commitment to
the future operation of the school system through
‘specific policies, decisions, and courses of action
that extend into the future.'” Lee [v.
Autauga Cnty. Bd. of Educ.], 2004 WL 2359667, at *4
[(Oct. 19, 2004)] (quoting Dowell v. Bd. of Educ. of the
Oklahoma City Public Schools, 8 F.3d 1501, 1513 (10th
Cir.1993)) (citations omitted).
(Doc. 364, p. 94)
parties implement the consent order in this case, the Court
is paying close attention to the second aspect of good faith
- the Huntsville district's commitment to the future
operation of the City of Huntsville school system through
courses of action that extend into the future and indicate a
willingness on the district's part to maintain the goals
of the desegregation order after the Court dissolves the
order. To release a public school district from federal
supervision, a district court must be reasonably confident
that a school district will not revert to prior
unconstitutional practices. This is where the rubber meets
members of a school board and a district's superintendent
bear primary responsibility for demonstrating that the school
district will maintain the goals of a desegregation order
after federal supervision ends. But in a system like
Huntsville's where the public elects the members of the
school board, and the members of the school board select the
superintendent, ultimate responsibility for good faith rests
with the electorate. Elected representatives do the will of
their constituents. Absent political will, genuine, systemic
change - as opposed to expedient, short-lived suspension of
unconstitutional policies and practices - cannot be achieved.
Therefore, in examining the district's progress in its
implementation of the consent order, the Court is paying
close attention to the public will and the extent to which
the Huntsville community supports not only the letter but the
spirit of the consent order.
consent order provides monitoring tools designed to make
transparent the district's work under the consent order,
so that the United States, the public, and the Court may
evaluate the district's progress under the consent order.
One of those tools is an annual report that contains copious
information relating to each of the Green factors
that the consent order addresses. (Doc. 450, pp. 89-91). The
consent order also establishes a Desegregation Advisory
Committee - DAC, for short. The DAC-through community
meetings, a dedicated webpage, and other means of
communication-gathers information relating to the
implementation of the consent order. (Doc. 450, p. 88; Doc.
509, pp. 2-3, 6). The DAC shares that information with the
district's superintendent and the Court, and the DAC
publishes an annual report. (Doc. 450, p. 89). The consent
order authorizes the United States to make site visits at the
district's schools and administrative offices. (Doc. 450,
p. 90). To familiarize itself with schools in the district
and to get a sense of school climate, the Court participates
in site visits from time to time. The Court also conducts
public hearings at which members of the community have an
opportunity to share with the parties and the Court
observations about the implementation of the consent order.
November 15, 2016, the Huntsville Board of Education provided
to the United States and to the Court an annual report for
the 2015-16 school year, the first full year of
implementation of the consent order. (Doc. 500 through Doc.
508). On September 5, 2017 and September 14,
2017, the Court visited a number of schools with counsel for
the parties. On September 6, 2017, the Court held a public
status conference at which the Court received updates from
Huntsville School Superintendent Dr. Matt Akin, Huntsville
Director of Strategy and Innovation Christie Finley, and
Huntsville Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Tammy
Summerville. In advance of the hearing, the Court also
received written comments from members of the community via
email messages to the DAC, and members of the Huntsville
community spoke at the September 6, 2017 hearing at the
conclusion of the parties' presentations. (Doc. 537, pp.
192-237). The Court relies on these sources of information
for purposes of this memorandum opinion.
The Board's Efforts to Implement the Consent Order and to
Fulfill its Reporting Obligations
the 2015-16 school year, the Huntsville Board of Education
developed procedures and supporting documents designed to
promote uniform implementation of the Consent Order,
“so that even if all new employees took over the
implementation of the Consent Order, the transition would
have only a minimal effect, if any, on implementation.”
(Doc. 500, p. 3). The Board developed implementation
protocols for student assignment, equitable access to course
offerings and programs, extracurricular activities, faculty,
facilities, and student discipline. (Doc. 500, p. 3; see
generally Doc. 450).
Board also submitted its 2015-16 Annual Report on time. The
report is more than 2, 400 pages long. (Docs. 501-08). The
Board filed a 45-page preface that provides an overview of
the 2015-16 academic year. (Doc. 500). In addition to
these formal reports, the district gathers data throughout
the school year to enable the district to monitor its
progress under the consent order. (Doc. 508). The Board
reports that it has woven its monitoring efforts into
“each school's Continuous Improvement process, so
that those goals are embedded in the daily instructional
process and expectations monitored by the principals.”
(Doc. 508, p. 5). The Board also routinely responds to
requests for information from the United States. (Doc. 537,
data and completing these reports is an arduous task that
requires diligence and attention to detail. The reports are
imperative to all stakeholders' ability to assess the
extent to which the district is progressing in its efforts to
comply with the consent order. The Board's effort to create
uniform procedures for the implementation of the consent
order also was a considerable task and one that is important
to the Board's compliance with the order. The Court
recognizes the district's significant efforts in this
regard and views the self-monitoring, in particular, as
evidence of a good-faith commitment to the future
identification of racial disparities within the district, so
that those disparities may be examined and alleviated.
Facilities - Recent School Construction
2016-17 school year, students at Sonnie Hereford Elementary
School, McNair Junior High School, and Jemison High School
attended brand new schools. Before the beginning of the
2017-18 school year, the Board completed construction of
Grissom High School and Morris P-8. (Doc. 500, p. 32; Doc.
537, p. 138). The district has completed renovations at
Whitesburg P-8, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School,
and AAA P-8. (Doc. 500, p. 33; Doc. 507-3, p. 2; Doc. 537,
pp. 138-139). The district also has complied with its
obligation to install SMALLabs in schools that house grades
seven and eight, thereby providing an innovative educational
tool to all seventh and eighth grade students in the
district. (Doc. 507-3, p. 12; Doc. 537, p. 138; see
generally Doc. 450, pp. 71-72). The Court has visited
the new schools; the facilities appear to be excellent.
consent order states that this district must “provide
equitable facilities so that no matter where a student
attends school[, ] the facility will provide the student with
equal access to a quality education.” (Doc. 450, p.
71). For the most part, the new school facilities are
equitable. There are some exceptions. The new Grissom High
School, a predominately white school, has tennis courts; the
new Jemison High School, a predominantly black school, does
not. (Doc. 507-9, p. 2). In addition, there have been
maintenance issues relating to the athletic facilities at
Jemison High School; there is no evidence that there are
similar issues at Grissom. (Doc. 537, pp. 234-236). The Court
reminds the Board to ensure that all facilities are equally
consent order also requires the Board to request approval
from the Court before “making any school renovations or
additions that would alter the M-to-M transfer capacity of a
school.” (Doc. 450, p. 72). The Court reminds the Board
of this obligation.
programs enhance desegregation by drawing students from
across the City of Huntsville to unique programs offered at
only one location in the district. To enhance the
availability of magnet programs and equity in the selection
of students for those programs, the district has adopted a
uniform online application. (Doc. 537, p. 38). The district
also has undertaken a significant effort to advertise its
magnet programs. These efforts have produced a nearly 40%
increase in magnet school enrollment. (Doc. 537, p. 41).
district now boasts the only middle school magnet program for
gifted students in the greater Huntsville area. (Doc. 537, p.
39). A number of magnet programs in the district seem to
attract a large number of applicants, fostering the ability
of these programs to serve as a desegregatory tool. (Doc.
501-4, p. 2). So popular are these programs that for the
2015-16 academic year, because of space restrictions, the
district could not accommodate all of the applicants that it
received for the AAA, ASFL, Columbia, New Century, and
Jemison College Academy programs. (Doc. 501-4, p.
The Court hopes that through the Board's marketing
efforts, the Board will continue to generate interest in
these and the other magnet programs within the district. It
appears that the Board is working to fulfill its obligation
to ensure that magnet programs are not duplicated at multiple
schools within the district, so that the programs may serve
their desegregatory purpose. (Doc. 500, pp. 11-12).
transfers enable a student to move from her zoned school
where her race is in the majority to another school where her
race is in the minority. During the 2015-16 school year, 348
students requested M-to-M transfers for the 2016-17 school
year. (See Doc. 501-1, pp. 2-10). The Board granted
216 of those requests. (See Doc. 501-1, pp.
2-10). The Board denied 132 of those requests.
(See Doc. 501-1, pp. 2-10). Challenger Elementary and
Jones Valley Elementary had the highest number of M-to-M
transfers at the elementary level. Approximately 20 students
accepted M-to-M transfers to Challenger Elementary, and
approximately 20 students accepted M-to-M transfers to Jones
Valley Elementary. (See Doc. 501-1, pp.
2-10). At the middle school level,
approximately 15 students accepted M-to-M transfers to both
Challenger Middle and Huntsville Junior High. (See
Doc. 501-1, pp. 2-10). For the district's high schools,
four students accepted M-to-M transfers to Grissom, and two
students accepted M-to-M transfers to Huntsville High.
(See Doc. 501-1, pp. 2-10).
with the terms of the consent order (see Doc. 450,
p. 18), the district distributed one survey to M-to-M parents
and another to M-to-M students to evaluate the M-to-M
program. The response rate for the parent survey was low.
Only 6.3% of eligible parents (or 51 of 813) responded to the
survey. (Doc. 501-1, p. 17). Because of the low response
rate, the responses are not statistically significant. (Doc.
500, p. 9). Of the parents who responded, more than 75% (or
three out of four) provided favorable responses to the
• The M2M transfer gives my student better academic
• My student's school is more academically
challenging than his/her zoned school;
• My student is able to excel academically because of
the M2M transfer;
• My student feels welcome in his/her school;
• My student gets along with other students at his/her
• The leadership at my student's school is
supportive of his/her success;
• I am glad my student is on an M2M transfer; and
• I am satisfied with where my student was placed for
the M2M transfer.
(Doc. 501-1, p. 17).
were less satisfied with issues relating to transportation
and the lottery process. For example, of the parents who
responded to the survey, only 48% were satisfied with the
transportation to and from his or her student's school,
and only 44% were satisfied with the lottery process that the
district uses to assign M-to-M transfers. (Doc. 501-1, p.
students' responses to the district's M-to-M survey
largely mirror the parents' responses, but the response
rate is significantly higher. Ninety-two percent of the
students surveyed responded. (Compare Doc. 501-1, p.
16 with Doc. 501-1, p. 17; Doc. 500, p. 6). Of the
students who responded to the survey, students indicated mid
to high satisfaction with respect to the following questions:
• The M2M transfer gives me better academic
• The M2M transfer gives me better extracurricular
• The M2M transfer is convenient for me/my family;
• My school is more academically challenging than my
• I am able to excel academically because of the M2M
• I feel welcome at my school;
• I get along with teachers at my school;
• I get along with other students at my school;
• The principal and staff at my school are supportive of
• I am glad I am on an M2M transfer;
• I am satisfied with the application process to receive
an M2M transfer; and
• I am satisfied with where I was placed for the M2M
(Doc. 501-1, p. 16).
students were more satisfied with bus transportation and the
lottery process than their parents. Of the students who
responded to the survey, 63% provided favorable responses
when asked whether they were satisfied with the bus
transportation to and from their school, and 61% provided
favorable responses when asked whether they were satisfied
with the lottery process for assigning M-to-M transfers.
(Doc. 501-1, p. 16). According to the survey key, the answers
to these two questions indicate low to mid student
satisfaction. (See Doc. 501-1, p. 15).
preface to the 2015-16 annual report, the district stated
that there were aberrations in the report which the district
attributed to a number of factors, including “[i]ssues
driven by the interactions of newly blended student
populations.” (Doc. 500, p. 2). A few schools within
the district have experienced more significant changes in
student population than most of the schools in the district.
The schools experiencing the most significant changes in
student population include Blossomwood Elementary, Jones
Valley Elementary, and Huntsville High School. Because of
their proximity to predominantly African-American
neighborhoods, these schools received more black students
through rezoning. (Doc. 446, p. 222; Doc. 450-1, pp. 2, 13;
Doc. 450-3, p. 7; Doc. 537, pp. 65-68; Doc. 537, pp. 60-61;
Compare Doc. 382, p. 6 with Doc. 463-6, p.
2 and Doc. 507-9, p. 2). Additionally, many parents selected
these schools as their first choice for M-to-M transfers.
(See Doc. 501-1, pp. 2-10). It is reasonable to
infer that parents selected these schools as their first
choice for M-to-M transfers because a transfer necessarily
requires additional travel, so that a relatively close
transfer school is preferable to a distant school. The
combination of rezoned black students and black M-to-M
transfer students at these schools has altered the racial
composition of student populations at these schools. In
reaction to the initial shift in the racial composition of
the student populations at these schools, some white parents
withdrew their children from the schools, contributing to the
overall shift in the racial composition of the student bodies
in the schools.
shifts in student populations have produced the most written
feedback that the Court has received regarding the
implementation of the consent order. Of the thousands of
families whose children attend public schools in the City of
Huntsville, the Court has received fewer than a dozen written
submissions expressing concern over shifts in student
populations, but the Court recognizes that the fairly