Garcia memo key in school rezoning lawsuit

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 6:45pm

Attorneys sparred Tuesday over potentially crucial evidence on the first day of the trial of the NAACP-backed discrimination lawsuit against the Metro Nashville school system — a memorandum in which ousted superintendent Pedro Garcia denounces the new student assignment plan as a segregationist fraud.

"This is the director of schools saying this rezoning plan is illegal in its intent," NAACP attorney Larry Woods said, urging U.S. District Judge John Nixon to allow plaintiffs to use the memo to make their case.

But Metro lawyer Kevin Klein dismissed it as "layers of hearsay" and repeatedly objected as Woods used a overhead projector to flash the memo on to a wall of the courtroom. Nixon said he would rule later about the memo's admissibility, but he allowed Woods to question just-retired school board member George Thompson about it.

Garcia gave the memo to Thompson around the time he was forced out of office in January 2008, and Thompson leaked it to the media just before the school board adopted the plan in July of that year. Nixon ruled Thompson could refer to the memo while testifying about "his own state of mind" as the board considered the rezoning plan.

In the memo, Garcia, who is refusing to testify in the case, says he was under heavy pressure to agree to the rezoning plan. He writes Kathy Neville, a former board member, told him then-board chair Marsha Warden "was facing significant pressure from the Hillwood cluster parents to get rid of the African-American students presently assigned to that cluster.

"Unfortunately, this is a racially charged issue," Garcia writes. "I took the stand to oppose resegregating the district. It was the right stand and I would do it again."

"I called it skulduggery," Thompson, who is black, testified. "There was so much of it going on."

The lawsuit asks Nixon to toss out the student rezoning plan, which ended the busing of black children from north Nashville to the white suburbs this school year. The NAACP contends it resegregates schools and discriminates against black children by consigning them to substandard educations in north Nashville's Pearl-Cohn schools.

In 2007, Garcia called the proposal "a racist plan" at one point in a public meeting, Thompson testified. In his memo, Garcia claims he was threatened, intimidated and eventually forced out of office for opposing the plan.

Thompson, who retired from the board in 2008 after 14 years in office, testified he voted against the plan because he believes it discriminates against black children. The school board voted 5-4 for the plan despite opposition from many black leaders.

"I grew up in Nashville when we had segregated schools," said Thompson, who graduated from the old Pearl High School in 1961. "I saw the battle for equality and the battle against racially isolated schools right here in this city."

In his opening statement, Klein defended the rezoning plan as giving parents more choice and children more opportunities. But black parents testified the school system denied their children the schools of their choice.

Klein told the judge the community task force that developed the plan decided "one size does not fit all. They decided, 'We're not going to make students in this Pearl-Cohn cluster go across town. We'll ask them, is it better for you to go close to home or is it better for you to continue to go across town.' That was their break-through.

"Their intent was to provide choice for these students," Klein said. "Their intent was to provide opportunity for these students. It had nothing to do with some discriminatory purpose."

Under the rezoning plan, north Nashville students who had been attending schools in the Hillwood cluster were promised they could finish there, even though cross-town busing had been ended. But Jeffrey and Frances Spurlock said their daughter wasn't allowed to continue going to school in Bellevue but was instead forced to go to a north Nashville school. Carroll Lewis, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, said her granddaughter also was denied her choice to go to Bellevue.

"I had the option of putting my children in two failing schools," Frances Spurlock testified. "Why would they only offer us schools that are not up to par, where the students are failing?"

7 Comments on this post:

By: Anna3 on 11/4/09 at 9:09

Old Pedro...He's the gift that just keeps on giving isn't he? The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is behind all of this "Skullduggery" as Thompson puts it. Warden, Neville, and David Fox are all creations of their recruiting, funding, and grooming of School Board Candidates. Until Ralph Schultz is told to start doing his job and recruiting jobs to Nashville...he'll continue to meddle in our schools and and government totally screwing it all up. (As if the School Board and Administration hasn't screwed it up enough over the years). It's just too funny that Warden, Neville, and now Fox are known as racists (Branded by Garcia) all over town now...but I personally believe that this effort is not driven by racism much...but by the desire to get parents of middle class families to trust the schools again. For the race baiters...there are not racists behind every tree on the school grounds. As for the person(s) that made the very stupid decision to deny admission to these girls wishing to attend Hillwood..you've probably thrown the baby out with the bath water and put the entire opportunity to return to neighborhood schools in jeopardy. How did Nashville get a Mayors Office, A Chamber of Commerce, and a School Board filled with so many "Educated Fools"? I believe the judge is going to give all these folks an enema with a flame-thrower. Larry Woods is smart, sharp, and he wins cases...by the way... has anyone asked Ralph Schultz how he got us into this pedicament?

By: govskeptic on 11/4/09 at 11:11

Interesting that of all the school board members that
served with then Director Garcia, that Mr. George
Thompson, was the one to be called by Plantiffs
attorney. Mr Thompson was one of two members
that were extremely opposed to ANY change right
from the beginning of the discussions of this matter.
He always reflected a 1950's view on most items that
were under consideration by the board.

By: pswindle on 11/4/09 at 11:12

Garcia begged for the job, and the School Board hired this man, we are now paying the price. I would like to know who on earth thought that Garcia was the best person for Nashville? Another mistake in education that will take us years to overcome.

By: artsmart on 11/4/09 at 11:41

Pedro Garcia and the truth have never been in the room at the same time. I think it is telling that he would refuse to testify.

By: marthawnelson on 11/4/09 at 12:00

Unfortunately, this resegregation plan for our schools is not news. Any careful reader of the plan 18 months ago could see through the looking glass clearly. But this lawsuit, and thanks to the expertise of Larry Woods, has now brought what careful observers already knew to the forefront and the front pages. The resegregation reality of the plan is now out in the open for a good, hard judicial look.

Behind all this we have a culture in Nashville which, for some crazy reason, loves to bash and batter its Metro Superintendent of Schools. I have seen the craziness of it for the past 22 years. Pedro Garcia was a man of commitment with a true heart for improvement. And he stood up to the pressure and was ousted.

We get the leaders we deserve, and we lose the ones who know us better than we know ourselves. But the bottom line? So long as Nashville supports one of the strongest and largest, per capita, private school networks in this country, our public schools will suffer brain drain, financial drain, and most of all, the will to create public schools for our brightest and best. It's not Ralph's fault we're in this public mess. It's because the power and influence, and money, is behind the high-achieving private school culture and network in our city and suburbs. I think we have to face that once and for all.

The chasm between high performing private schools and low preforming public schools in our city is a reality of simply gigantic proportions for our public school children.

And still, I hope.

By: artsmart on 11/4/09 at 4:19

Ms. Nelson:

You clearly have never met with or spoken to Pedro. The man was the most self centered arrogant human being I have ever seen. The problem is on several fronts
and some I'm not sure can ever be corrected. Bransford Ave is run like a little kingdom for the people that work there. The Board is either very weak or completely inept and cannot or will not hold the administrations feet to the fire. Lastly ,city schools have the same problem everywhere, lack of serious parental involvement.
I grew up in a city school elsewhere and it was the same problems. The only difference was that the trouble makers were dealt with swiftly. I'm sure a number of the kids I grew up with are still on the old neighborhood complaining life is not fair.
And guess what it is not. So you have to dig in and do your best. Also it was George Thompson not Ralph, but that might explain some comments.

By: consultmlcesq on 11/5/09 at 12:30

Consider this in conjunction with the speech which I delivered to the Nashville Board of Education and its director, Pedro Garcia. (Attached to my facebook page, as a note and also available on video tape). That was many years ago, when I brought attention to that which was already underway - the deliberate and intentional; but deceptive re-segregation of Davidson County Schools in Nashville, Tennessee. I spoke along with several others who voiced equally disconcerting concerns about the disproportionate terminations and re-assignments of Black teachers and Principals, during that time. I believe Dr. Garcia, to an extent; however, at that time, I held all of the following responsible for what appeared to be a partisan policy: Dr. Pedro Garcia, particular board members and staff, certain members of the Chamber of Commerce, and the core partisan policies, underlying the No Child Left Behind Act.

With respect to Ralph Thompson, it was he who - based on falsely alleged information - issued, a police authorized order that I "not to get out of my car" when I dropped off and picked up my kid from school at John Early, "or otherwise risk arrest.". Among other matters, I had stated my concerns to the principal, teacher and resource officer, about the fact that NCLB required testing on computer technology, when the course wasn't even being offered as part of the curriculum at that new so-called but already re-segregated "magnet" school. Also, I had been distributing newsletters to John Early parents about the intentionally and deliberate re-segregation of and discrimination against students of John Early, in particular. Worst of all I spoke freely of my intent to run for PTO/PTA as president, which I believe must have been the straw that broke the the camels back. Weeks later, after I had responded in writing to the issuer, with copies being sent to the mayor, city council, school board, and media; the principal verbally retracted the threat and encouraged me to thereinafter participate in my son's school affairs, as I always had. In years past, I had frequently been complimented by this same Principal and Teacher, for offering assistance whenever needed and otherwise being involved at my son's School. I now believe that during the Garcia administration, there was a deliberate effort on the part of the administration as a whole - based on partisan policy - to keep concerned parents out of the schools, even if doing so required conjuring up false allegations which ended with "the parent was threatening to the point of making a teacher or administrator fearful for her life.'