Metro lawyers defended the new student assignment plan Tuesday as giving parents more choice and children more opportunties. But on the opening day of the trial of an NAACP-backed lawsuit, black parents testified the school system denied their children the schools of their choice.
The lawsuit asks U.S. District Judge John Nixon to toss out the student rezoning plan that 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 cluster schools.
In opening statements, Metro lawyer Kevin 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?"
Also Tuesday, just-retired school board member George Thompson testified he voted against the rezoning plan because he believes it discriminates against black children. The school board adopted the plan by a 5-4 vote in July 2008 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.
"Bottom line, your honor, is I voted the way I did because I felt that it would resegregate our schools," Thompson said.