The Lawyers’ Committee, along with the law firm of Dechert LLP and the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights, represents the Pitt County Coalition for Educating Black Children, the plaintiffs in a case arising from a school desegregation order issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in 1971. The district court order established that Pitt County Schools and Greenville City Schools operated racially segregated, dual and unconstitutional school systems in violation of the plaintiffs’ rights to equal protection under the law. At present, plaintiffs allege that the Pitt County school system has still failed to eliminate the vestiges of racial segregation from its system of public education.
On May 7, 2012, the plaintiffs achieved a significant victory when the Fourth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals overturned a federal district court ruling which denied the appellants’ request for injunctive relief from a Pitt County Board of Education 2011-2012 student assignment plan. The student assignment plan utilized factors such as student proximity to neighborhood schools and building utilization/capacity rather than student diversity and racially integrated schools.
Moreover, the Pitt County student redistricting plan created a significant increase in racially identifiable, non-white schools with low student achievement including a new elementary school as a high-minority, low-achieving school thereby moving the school district further away from unitary status and violating the existing federal court order.
Unitary status is a judicial determination that the school district has eliminated the remaining vestiges of racial segregation from its public school system. The student assignment plan adopted by the Pitt County Board of Education in 2010 and implemented in 2011 may effectively deny many minority students equal access to racially balanced, high performing public schools since many are not located within their respective neighborhoods.
Accordingly, under the Fourth Circuit’s recent ruling, the federal district court is now required to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether to reconsider the Pitt County Coalition for Educating Black Children’s motion to enjoin the 2011-2012 Student Assignment Plan, approved by the Pitt County Board of Education in 2010 and implemented this school year, complies with the Board’s obligations under the active desegregation order. Further, the district court is required to apply the correct legal standard, which places the burden of proof on the Pitt County Board of Education to show that its 2011-2012 student assignment plan moves the school district closer to attaining “unitary status.”
To read the press release on the 4th Circuit’s May 7th ruling, please click here.
To read the 4th Circuit’s May 7th opinion, please click here.
Meet the Legal Team
Front: Mark Dorosin, Director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights; CB Buente, Associate at Dechert; Taiyyaba Qureshi, Attorney at UNC Center for Civil Rights. Back: Lauren Kurtz, Associate at Dechert; Ezra Rosenberg, Partner at Dechert; Shane Prince, Associate at Dechert; Noel Roycroft, Associate Counsel at Lawyers’ Committee; Brenda Shum, Director of Educational Opportunities Project at Lawyers’ Committee.