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Fifth Circuit rules in favor of county schools

By PAT BROWN,

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has finally ruled favorably on the Simpson County School District’s compliance with the  consent degree under which the district has been operating since 1970.

The ruling came after complaints that the district should stay under federal guidelines previously approved by the Department of Justice because of “violations in hiring practices.”  Those guidelines were part of the consent decree which  the school board entered into voluntarily in 1970. 

The original degree was the result of complaints of segregation in the school district and its hiring practices.

The most recent ruling said the district is in compliance with required hiring practices.  Plaintiffs for the case are Cynthia Fletcher by Artis Fletcher and Gloria Jean Barnes and David Barnes by Rev. Theotis Smith. 

The school district had already come out from under the majority of contested issues, which were primarily involved desegregation.  However, complaints continued to be filed that kept the school district in violation, thus remaining under the court’s jurisdiction. 

In 2013 the school district moved for unitary status, which meant they were compliant and would be released from the order.

The intervenors filed objections, over 500 of them to be exact, but many of the objections were nothing more than the statement “I object,” citing no reason other than objection. 

The 2013 effort to receive unitary status was denied based on staff and faculty assignments.  The decree was extended until 2015.  The intervenors filed objection again, but this time the court ruled in favor of the school district. 

In September 2015 the district moved yet again for unitary status.  At that point 65 objections were filed, but they were again generic and non-specific.  This time the court approved unitary status only to have the intervenors appeal. 

The court said the district had acted in good faith to comply with the consent decree and only willful, or intentional violations would cause the district to be found in violation of the court order. 

When hiring incidents were challenged under the good faith clause, the district could show justification on decisions that were made in hiring practices.  Some of these involved a scoring process used for applications. 

The order went on to say that the number of African-American teachers has increased or remained steady over the past decade and that the district makes efforts to recruit at historically black colleges and universities. 

The court also said that hiring practices were made on factual determinations and not “cronyism.” 

The summary of the hearing was the complainants had been successful in their filing because segregation no longer exists in the school system. 

The district issued a news release in which Superintendent Greg Paes said, “We are pleased with this decision, because the district has worked very hard to meet the demands of the Consent Decree.”