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Thursday, January 29, 2015

DOJ AND HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA CITY SCHOOLS FILE CONSENT ORDER TO SETTLE "ATTENDANCE ZONES" ISSUES

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Monday, January 26, 2015
Justice Department and Huntsville City Schools Announce Proposed Consent Decree to Provide Equal Educational Opportunities

The Department of Justice announced today that it has filed a proposed consent order in Hereford v. Huntsville Board of Education, a longstanding school desegregation case, to resolve issues related to school attendance zones, black students’ access to quality academic offerings and student discipline, among other areas.  The department and counsel for the Huntsville City Schools in Alabama jointly filed the proposed consent order in district court in Birmingham, and are now seeking public comment prior to presentation of the proposed consent order to the Huntsville Board of Education and to the court for final approval.

The proposed agreement, if approved, would resolve the parties’ dispute over the district’s 2014 plan to reconfigure student attendance zones.  The Justice Department had objected that the plan did not further desegregation or address racial inequalities in students’ access to quality academic offerings.  If approved by the court, the proposed consent order would require the district to provide equal educational opportunities to black students by taking steps including:

revising attendance zones and growing and strengthening magnet programs to improve diversity at many of its schools;

expanding access for black students to pre-kindergarten, gifted programs, advanced course offerings such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, academic after-school programs, and college counseling;

implementing measures to promote faculty and administrator diversity;

ensuring that all students are aware of and can equally participate in extracurricular activities;

creating positive, inclusive school climates, and ensuring that student discipline is fair, non-discriminatory, and does not unnecessarily remove students from classrooms;

establishing a desegregation advisory committee consisting of students and parents to advise the district and inform the court about implementation of the consent order;

providing professional development for teachers on such topics as strategies for teaching students from diverse backgrounds, understanding implicit bias, and supporting positive student behavior; and

continuously monitoring racial disparities to ensure meaningful and sustained improvement in areas including student performance, students’ access to courses, and rates of student discipline.

“A quality education is the key that opens the door to a better future,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division.  “This agreement aims to ensure that African American students in Huntsville schools can access that quality education on an equal basis.  We look forward to working with the district to implement the measures required by this proposed order, if approved, and eventually bring this case to successful resolution after so many years.”

“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that Alabama schools provide African American students, and all students, with the equal educational opportunities guaranteed under federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance for the Northern District of Alabama.

If the proposed consent order is approved, the Justice Department will monitor and enforce the district’s compliance.  The district may seek a declaration of unitary status and dismissal of the case when it can demonstrate sustained compliance with the terms of the consent order.