Federal court blocks Alabama city’s effort to form new school system citing racial motives

Federal court blocks Alabama city’s effort to form new school system citing racial motives
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A federal court ruled on Tuesday that Gardendale, a northern suburb of Birmingham, Ala., cannot leave the Jefferson County school district to form its own school system.

A three-judge panel on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the attempt by Gardendale to secede from the county had racial motives. Gardendale had cited local rights as its motive for seceding, AL.com reported, but the panel said the city's attempt to form its own school system was done with "a discriminatory purpose."

"The district court found that the Gardendale Board acted with a discriminatory purpose to exclude black children from the proposed school system and, alternatively, that the secession of the Gardendale Board would impede the efforts of the Jefferson County Board to fulfill its desegregation obligations," the 11th Circuit Court wrote. "Despite these findings, the district court devised and permitted a partial secession that neither party requested." 

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On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals found that the city wanted to exclude black children from its new school and overturned the district court’s ruling that allowed Gardendale to secede over a three year period.

According to 2010 U.S. Census data, 42 percent of Jefferson County residents are black, while 53 percent of its residents are white. Comparatively, 2010 census data shows 6.8 percent of Gardendale's residents are black and 88.4 percent of residents are white.

However, the court said Tuesday that Gardendale could still secede in the future if it did not go against the Jefferson County Board's desegregation efforts.

"If the Gardendale Board, for permissible purposes in the future, satisfies its burden to develop a secession plan that will not impede the desegregation efforts of the Jefferson County Board, then the district court may not prohibit the secession," the federal court ruled.

In the past, cities have been allowed to split from Jefferson County if they still abided by the desegregation order until the city became nondiscriminatory, AL.com reported.

Secession efforts similar to Gardendale’s are going on around the country. Dozens of districts have tried to break off from larger school districts since 2000, according to U.S. News and World Report.