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FRIDAY, JUNE 29, 2007
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Justices limit school diversity programs
Ruling could affect Decatur, but not neighboring systems under desegregation orders

By Deangelo McDaniel
and Bayne Hughes

news@decaturdaily.com 340-2433

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday could have implications for Decatur City Schools, but local school officials are unsure how much, if at all, the decision would change how they operate.

The ruling, however, most likely will have no impact on county systems in Lawrence, Limestone and Morgan counties.

In a 5-4 decision, the court limited school boards' ability to use a student's race when trying to achieve racial diversity. The Seattle and Louisville, Ky., court cases centered primarily on busing students to achieve racial diversity.

The court agreed with the parents' arguments that forcing children to leave schools close to them because of their race violated the students' constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

Decatur's plan

Decatur uses busing, two satellite zones and magnet schools to desegregate the elementary schools. The desegregation plan, which a federal judge approved in August 2004, centers on race.

"We'll have to study the ruling before we can really
determine the impact," Decatur Superintendent Sam Houston said. "Right now, all I know is we have a plan that the court says is constitutional and we'll abide by the federal court order."

Decatur school board President Dr. Charles Elliott said he wants to stick by the desegregation plan, which took more than nine years to get approval. The school board implemented it in August 2006. He said he favors having a desegregation plan for the city.

"We don't know how this is all going to shake out," Elliott said. "We worked so hard to get that plan approved, it would be a shame to have to let it go just as we're getting it up and running and people are starting to feel good about it."

Tommy Sykes is Decatur's only black school board member. He reacted unfavorably to the ruling.

"I think it would hurt us," Sykes said. "I'm afraid it would take us back to what we had before (desegregation)."

School board member Karen Duke had a more favorable view, saying she hopes the ruling would mean less federal
oversight. She said she hopes fewer federal regulations would allow the school system to operate without asking for permission on things that are often routine.

"We as a school board can do a very good job of running our own schools," Duke said. "We're going to do the right thing for the kids even if we have less federal intervention."

Federal order

Lawrence and Limestone counties are under a federal desegregation order, but they do not bus students. Living patterns, something the federal courts have supported, determine the racial makeup in those schools.

Lawrence County Superintendent Dexter Rutherford has monitored the cases since they arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I don't think the ruling is going to have any impact on us, but we have our attorney looking at it," he said.

The system's attorney, H. Jerome Thompson of Moulton, concurred.

"If we had busing or
used some kind of lottery system to assign our students, I would be concerned," Thompson said.

A group of parents challenged Lawrence County's desegregation order in the 1970s and lost.

A federal judge ruled that the racial makeup of schools in the system was due to living patterns and not action of the school board.

Limestone County Superintendent Barry Carroll was not available for comment.

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