Pitt County schools no longer are subject to 40-year-old desegregation orders from the federal government, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled, striking a blow against black parents who have contended in numerous court filings that recent school assignment plans have resegregated students.
The panel’s 2-1 decision releases the Pitt County school system from federal oversight put in place in the 1960s after a federal judge found that Pitt operated a racially segregated district in violation of students’ constitutional rights.
Since that oversight was put in place, the federal court approved a desegregation plan in 1970, and until 2008, when a group of white parents claimed their children were being discriminated against, the federal court was not asked to weigh in on the issue.
In 2009, a federal judge concluded that Pitt County schools was still subject to the federal oversight plan and ordered the system to work toward achieving “unitary status” and demonstrating that it had eliminated the vestiges of past discrimination.
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In 2011, a group of African-American parents sought court intervention to try to stop a student reassignment plan that they contended would increase racial segregation. A federal district court rejected their arguments.
In May 2012, in response to an appeal by the black parents, the 4th Circuit ruled in their favor and sent the case back to U.S. District Court for further consideration.
Before the case was heard, though, Pitt County school officials asked a judge to give the system “unitary status,” declaring that effects of previous segregation had been eliminated “to the maximum extent practicable.”
In the federal appeals court ruling issued on Wednesday, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Albert Diaz stated that the court “need look no further for proof than the fact that the desegregation orders remained administratively closed for over thirty-five years, during which time the Board undertook the task of integrating the schools relatively undisturbed. ... While racial imbalance returned over the succeeding years, the respective boards consistently took measures to bring their schools back into balance.”
Pitt County Schools have struggled with segregation for decades.
Though US Appeals Judge Paul Niemeyer joined Diaz in the majority opinion, Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. dissented.
“Our consideration of this case does not occur in a vacuum,” Wynn stated. “The rapid rate of de facto resegregation in our public school system in recent decades is well-documented. As one scholar put it, ‘Schools are more segregated today than they have been for decades, and segregation is rapidly increasing.’”