U.S. District Judge John Nixon urged attorneys Friday to settle the NAACP-backed lawsuit against the Metro school district's new student assignment plan that ended the cross-town busing of black children in Nashville.
As the school board rested its case, ending 12 days of hearings on the lawsuit, Nixon told lawyers for both sides to meet Monday to try to reach a settlement.
"Obviously, this is an important case to the community," Nixon said. "I'm going to ask you to make an attempt to settle this case. ... Each side has the possibility of losing this case. So come back and attempt to settle this case in the interest of the parties and in the interest of the community."
On the last day of the often-contentious hearing, schools director Jesse Register praised the student rezoning plan for offering parents choice of schools and for investing more than $5 million annually in additional teachers and guidance counselors and other improvements for north Nashville's schools.
"That can really turn schools around," Register said. "... I think it's a good start. This really creates an opportunity for high-quality schools."
The lawsuit accuses the school board of discriminating against black children by ending cross-town busing from north Nashville to Hillwood. The lawsuit asks Nixon to order the school board to develop a new plan that’s acceptable to both sides.
Experts for the plaintiffs--three black families--have testified the rezoning plan has isolated hundreds more children by race and socioeconomic status and contradicted decades of social science on how to teach poor urban kids. These witnesses cited 40 years of studies, including research in Nashville by Vanderbilt University’s Claire Smrekar and Ellen Goldring, showing that students learn less in schools where poverty is concentrated.
Register said he hasn't read academic papers by Smrekar and Goldring on the subject. But, parroting the testimony of school board members, he emphasized that parents are given the choice between putting their children on buses to Hillwood or sending them to school in north Nashville.
Of the 1,526 north Nashville students zoned last year for Hillwood’s schools, 1,094 have chosen to go to schools closer to home, according to the school district. The district is providing transportation to students who choose Hillwood’s schools.
Register said he sent social workers door-to-door to make sure parents understood their choice before the school year began. Of 3,200 students whose school zone was changed in north Nashville, only 17 families weren't contacted, he said.
"We wanted every parent in the district to make an informed choice, an educated choice for their children," Register said.