Lawyers gave a spirited defense of Nashville’s new student assignment plan Wednesday in federal court, saying it gives poor children from predominantly black sections of the city the opportunity to succeed in neighborhood schools.
U.S. District Judge John Nixon heard brief arguments from both sides in an NAACP-backed lawsuit that seeks to toss out the rezoning plan, which ended the busing of black children from north Nashville to Hillwood and Hillsboro this school year.
“This case isn’t about race,” Metro lawyer Kevin Klein said. “This case is about opportunity and it’s about choice. It’s about giving children the opportunity to succeed. It’s about giving parents the choice of whether they want their children to go to school close to home or put them on a bus to go elsewhere.”
Nixon did not rule, but abruptly ended the hearing after only about an hour and told the lawyers to get ready for trial. He scheduled the case to resume on Nov. 3.
The NAACP contends the rezoning plan is racially motivated. Under pressure from white parents and the Chamber of Commerce, black leaders say, the school board acted to remove black children from white suburban schools.
“This rezoning plan is a pretext,” the lawyer for the plaintiffs, Larry Woods, told the judge. “It’s a concealed plan to resegregate the schools in Nashville.”
Klein called those claims “a conspiracy theory” that’s “frankly unsupported.”
He pointed out that, under certain conditions, parents could choose to continue to send their children to Hillwood and Hillsboro schools. Also, the school board voted to spend an additional $5 million a year to improve schools in north Nashville for parents who sent their children to schools there.
“This is Metro Nashville’s chance to take at-risk students and give them an opportunity to succeed,” Klein said, “but we’ve got to give it time, and we’ve got to stop pretending that busing students is the solution.”