Plaintiffs and Metro attorneys are renewing talks to settle the rezoning lawsuit slapped against the school district, a case hinging on allegations of re-segregation that has now dragged on for a year and half.
U.S. District Court Judge John Nixon told a courtroom Thursday he would like both sides of the Spurlock v. Fox case to attempt to reach a settlement, which would potentially put to rest the highly publicized suit stemming from a controversial Metro student assignment plan the school board narrowly approved in 2008 and implemented last academic year.
The parties agreed to meet Thursday, Feb. 3, for a settlement conference. Nixon said he would pursue bringing on U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Wiseman as mediator and neither side objected. Meanwhile, court proceedings, over which Nixon still presides, are to pick back up with a Feb. 24 status conference.
“We have a settlement conference next week to try to do what’s best for the students and work this out for the entire community,” said Larry Woods, lead attorney representing parents Jeffrey and Frances Spurlock, whose daughter’s transfer from a middle school in suburban Bellevue to one in historically black North Nashville spurred the suit.
Metro attorney Kevin Klein said the school board "has a strong case."
"But in the interest of allowing the district and the community to move forward, the board is going to explore the possibility of settlement," Klein said.
Prior to agreeing on the settlement conference date, Woods told the judge that Kansas City, Mo.-based civil rights attorney Arthur Benson has signed on as co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
Two weeks ago, Nixon ordered plaintiffs to seek legal aid from an outside group such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Woods wasn’t able to land a high-profile national organization and, instead, tapped Benson.
Woods relayed a Benson-proposed amended court schedule that would push court proceedings into the summer and allow time for the plaintiffs to bring in expert witnesses including a demographer and education administrator.
Klein opposed the proposed schedule.
“This case has the potential to get out of control,” he said to the judge, alluding to the calendar offered by the plaintiffs.
Nixon did not adopt the plaintiffs’ calendar and pushed the next status conference to Feb. 24.
It’s still unclear whether the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which assists in cases across the country, could play a role in next week’s settlement conference. Though the Legal Defense Fund has been unwilling to collaborate with the plaintiffs, Woods previously said the group has indicated an interest in serving as a catalyst during settlement talks.