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Gardendale BOE leaders react to court appeals decision

From The Trussville Tribune staff reports

BIRMINGHAM – In the latest chapter of the Gardendale Schools System’s attempt to break from Jefferson County, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit made a ruling and said that the system cannot go forward without a plan to stay obedient to an anti-segregation order made in 1971. The Gardendale Board of Education plans to appeal the ruling.

While the 11th Circuit denied Gardendale’s bid to form a city school system under the current circumstances, it left open the opportunity for the city to try again.

“Of course, we do not suggest that the Gardendale Board of Education is“forever [a] vassal[] of the [C]ounty [B]oard.”Stout II , 466 F.2d at 1215. The authority of the judiciary to intervene in the ‘local autonomy’ of Jefferson County, Jenkins, 515 U.S. at 99, is tied to the constitutional violation at issue: the earlier de jure segregation of schools. If the Gardendale Board, for permissible purposes in the future, satisfies its burden to develop a secession plan that will not impede the desegregation efforts of the Jefferson County Board, then the district court may not prohibit the secession. We do not belittle the ‘need that is strongly felt in our society’ to have ‘direct control over decisions vitally affecting the education of one’s children.’ Wright , 407 U.S. at 469. Indeed, the ‘local autonomy of school districts is a vital national tradition.’ Jenkins, 515 U.S. at 99. We hold only that the desire for local autonomy must yield when a constitutional violation is found and remains unremedied,” the ruling stated.

Standing in front of the Hugo Black United States Courthouse in Birmingham, Michael Hogue, who is President of the Gardendale City Schools Board of Education, read a statement regarding the court’s decision .

“We believe our actions have always reflected only our desire to form a new, welcoming, and inclusive school system to help schoolchildren and parents succeed,” he read.

The decision is part of an ongoing effort in recent years by the Gardendale school systems to break away from the county and form its own system. The effort, however, has been met with resistance from the Jefferson County Board of Education, which has brought legal cases against Gardendale.

The Gardendale school system was accused of discrimination against black students with its desire to break from the county. U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Haikala believed that the system violated the desegregation order but allowed it to partially break from the county with the exception of the middle and high schools.

The order by Haikala was eventually rescinded. The appeals court agreed that the system was being discriminatory but did not agree with the partial succession.

The 11th Circuit concluded in its ruling: “We AFFIRM IN PART, REVERSE IN PART, and REMAND WITH INSTRUCTIONS TO DENY THE MOTION OF THE GARDENDALE BOARD TO SECEDE.”

The JCBOE released a statement on the ruling:

“The Jefferson County Board of Education has received the opinion from the federal appeals court regarding the Gardendale split. We are reviewing the decision and determining what the best course of action is, as this matter will return to the district court. While we were not appellants, we want to make it clear that during this process, our main concern is how to best educate all children affected by Gardendale’s possible succession. Regardless of the court’s final decision, we remain focused on continuing to improve education throughout the Jefferson County School District and look forward to a final decision regarding this matter.”

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