A federal judge has affirmed the legality of Metro Nashville Public Schools' controversial 2008 rezoning plan by ruling in Metro's favor in Spurlock, et. al vs. Fox, et. al.
Judge Kevin Sharp determined that the MNPS 2008 rezoning plan, which opponents claimed was racially isolating Pearl Cohn and Hillwood “clusters,” was not attempting to classify students on the basis of race. He signed an order dismissing the case on Friday.
“While the School Board’s action caused a segregative effect, the Court is unable to conclude that the School Board adopted the plan with a segregative purpose,” Sharp wrote in his conclusions of law filing.
“We are happy to have this litigation behind us,” said Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register, who hadn't started his tenure in Nashville when the plan was approved. "We value diversity in our schools and will continue to promote diverse schools through innovative programs and school choice."
Metro attorney Kevin Klein said Metro was “thrilled and relieved” by Judge Sharp's decision.
“Most importantly, we feel like it's vindication for the folks on the task force and the school board who put in the long hours to craft and vote on this plan,” Klein said.
Former school board chair David Fox, the named defendant in the original 2009 lawsuit, said he always believed Metro's student assignment plan was "good for all students."
"I wish that taxpayers were able to recoup all the money we had to waste against this ridiculous lawsuit," Fox said. "I'm glad it's over. It was a distraction. It was an unfortunate waste of money."
Klein said he and fellow Metro attorney Allison Bussell devoted "literally 3,800 hours" to the case and paid expert witnesses and outside counsel more than $1 million.
Frances Spurlock filed the lawsuit after her child was rezoned from a high performing school in Bellevue to a low-achieving school closer to home in North Nashville. The class action lawsuit claimed the move was a form of re-segregation and attorney Allen Woods said they plan to appeal.
"Not surprisingly, the Court held that the current zoning plan has resulted in increased segregation in the Nashville public school system. Any claim by Metro that it is pleased or satisfied with the Court's decision today should be viewed in light of that lamentable holding by the Court," Woods said.
Sharp recognized that the plan created more segregation, but ruled that the case didn't prove racial motivations by Metro.
According to his filing, Sharp analyzed the historical background of the decision, the specific sequence of events leading up to the rezoning plan, and whether the plan departed from normal procedure.
“While the School Board might be chastised for its bitter divisiveness and lack of political will, the Court cannot locate an intent to use the re-zoning plan to discriminate on the basis of race,” Sharp wrote.
One of Metro's main defenses in the case was that parents have more educational choices than ever before. Sharp agreed, but pointed out that MNPS hasn't done a good job of informing parents of their choices.
“While the District has not done enough to inform families of the choices available for them ... the execution of the plan is rationally related to the District’s objective of increasing choice,” Sharp wrote.