The first day of the trial in a lawsuit challenging the Metro Nashville Public Schools 2008 rezoning plan ended with a top MNPS official agreeing that two school zone clusters were more racially isolated under the assignment plan.
After more than three years since the case was first filed, both sides presented opening arguments Tuesday in the class-action suit Spurlock et al. v. Fox et al.
Attorney Larry Woods, who is representing plaintiff Frances Spurlock and a class of African-Americans claiming to be affected by rezoning in the Pearl Cohn and Hillwood school clusters, began presenting his case, which included calling Alan Coverstone, executive director of the MNPS Office of Innovation, to the stand.
Coverstone, a former school board member, was peppered with questions about his background and his stance on diversity. When asked whether the two specific clusters experienced more or less “racial isolation” after the 2008 assignment plan, Coverstone paused and said he had trouble looking at the plan in segments.
But U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp asked that he provide a more direct answer.
Coverstone then said that it appeared as though Hillwood and Pearl Cohn were “moving in the direction of [being] more” racially isolated. He added he wasn’t in favor of rescinding the assignment plan as a whole.
The court also heard testimony from Vanderbilt professor and researcher Brian Heuser, a Hope Gardens resident and parent who said he’s considering relocation after his home was rezoned from the Hillsboro cluster to the Pearl Cohn cluster.
Heuser testified that parents weren’t involved in the rezoning talks — and that the education of neighborhood children could be “compromised” by only having an option of attending low-achieving schools.
In his opening argument, Woods called the rezoning plan a “railroad train moving down the tracks” that the school board didn’t take enough time to review. Both sides agreed on showing the court a two-and-a-half-hour clip from a contentious school board meeting in July 2008.
According to Woods, a taskforce assembled by the school board used race as a factor when creating the rezoning plan. He said recent test results show a drop in TCAP scores at Pearl Cohn since the rezoning.
Metro attorney Kevin Klein countered Woods’ opening argument, by saying he “didn’t know where to start” when addressing the “factual inaccuracies” in Woods’ argument. Klein pointed out that giving parents within the Pearl Cohn cluster an option between Pearl Cohn High School and Hillwood High School was a “meaningful choice.”
Nearly all of Woods’ claims of racism, Klein said, had no proof to back them up.
Mayor Karl Dean is expected to be called to testify in the case on Thursday. MNPS Director Jesse Register was in the courtroom Tuesday and is also expected to testify in the case.
Woods estimated that his side of the argument could conclude tomorrow. Klein said he planned on taking five days to present Metro’s side.