Lawyers have failed to reach an out-of-court settlement in the NAACP-backed lawsuit accusing the Metro school board of discriminating against black children by ending the last vestige of cross-town busing in the city this year.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are preparing to notify U.S. District Judge John Nixon that settlement talks did not produce any result, according to sources close to the case.
Nixon concluded a three-week hearing last month by urging the two sides to reach an agreement. Metro’s lead attorney in the case, Kevin Klein, did not return a phone call for comment.
Walter Searcy, chairman of the NAACP’s legal redress committee, is accusing Metro of failing to negotiate seriously.
“You can say that it appears that Metro was being less than forthcoming in their efforts,” Searcy said. “It really didn’t appear that settlement talks actually ever got off the ground. We’re disappointed by that. We think the judge’s strong suggestion was fairly clear, but we never could really get them off of square one.”
The lawsuit seeks to overturn the school board’s new student assignment plan, which stopped the mandatory busing of black children from north Nashville to Hillwood. The NAACP contends the plan resegregates schools and consigns black children to substandard educations in high-poverty, crime-ridden neighborhoods.
In last month’s federal hearings, board members took the witness stand to defend themselves, denying their goal was to rid the white suburbs of low-income black children. They insisted that the plan is meant to provide choice while keeping community resources within each neighborhood. The plan allows north Nashville’s parents to choose whether to send their children to schools in Hillwood or closer to home.
In settlement talks, sources say the plaintiffs wanted Metro to convert four high schools in lower-income neighborhoods — Pearl-Cohn, Maplewood, Antioch and Glencliff — into magnet schools in the hopes of attracting more white, middle-class children. In addition, the plaintiffs sought higher pay — as much as 25 percent — for teachers who choose to work in schools in neighborhoods with the worst poverty.
Metro’s lawyers rejected both of those key demands. But in a confidential document obtained by The City Paper, Metro agreed to pursue federal grants to start new magnet schools and to study “alternative pay structures” for teachers. They also agreed to create “theme-based academies” at Pearl-Cohn, Stratford and Maplewood and to waive the city’s costs in defending against the lawsuit if the plaintiffs accepted their terms. If the plaintiffs lose this lawsuit, Metro could try to recover their tens of thousands of dollars in costs from them.
In addition, Metro demanded that the plaintiffs withdraw their claims that the school board acted in a discriminatory way in adopting the rezoning plan.
“Moreover,” the lawyers wrote, “plaintiffs and their counsel withdraw the assertion that MNPS or any individual defendant stated, or harbors the belief that students of a particular ethnic group cannot be educated to high national standards.”
That’s apparently a reference to an allegation in the plaintiffs’ complaint that school board chairman David Fox advocated segregation in community meetings. In their complaint, the plaintiffs claim Fox said “more than once” that “African Americans cannot learn” and that they “are failing so the school board believes that they should separate and rezone” them to Pearl-Cohn schools. During last month’s court proceeding, no witness testified hearing Fox say that.
The two sides met only twice. Now that talks have ended, Nixon could rule as early as February.