Case: Cowan and US v. Bolivar County Board of Education

4:65-cv-00031 | U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi

Filed Date: July 25, 1965

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

On July 25, 1965, students of the Bolivar County Board of Education filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi under Title IV and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lawsuit was against the Bolivar County Board of Education; plaintiffs sought preliminary and permanent injunctions to end the compulsory biracial school system. Various plans were submitted until, on July 22, 1969, Judge Keady entered an Order requiring that the dual system be d…

On July 25, 1965, students of the Bolivar County Board of Education filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi under Title IV and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lawsuit was against the Bolivar County Board of Education; plaintiffs sought preliminary and permanent injunctions to end the compulsory biracial school system. Various plans were submitted until, on July 22, 1969, Judge Keady entered an Order requiring that the dual system be dismantled and its effects be eliminated, and outlined expectations for desegregation.

In 1985, the United States was allowed to intervene in the lawsuit; it alleged the school district was not compliant with the 1969 order. After negotiations, a consent order was entered on September 25, 1989 that described, in detail, expectations, including adding a majority-to-minority transfer program to correct student desegregation issues, a magnet program, and equivalent course offerings and faculty assignment.

On May 2, 2011, the United States filed a motion for further relief requesting that the court enforce its prior desegregation orders. The government said that, in reviews conducted between 2006 and 2008, it found numerous violations of the past orders, especially in the areas of student and faculty assignment. The District argued that it was in good faith compliance. In an order entered on March 28, 2012, the court found that the government had taken good faith steps to limit a racially identifiable school system but had not yet eradicated it. The court ordered the parties to create a plan to further integrate the school district in terms of faculty and student assignment. 914 F. Supp. 2d 801.

On January 24, 2013, the court entered an opinion approving the District's plan to establish an open enrollment system, in which a student could enroll in either of the two junior high schools and either of the two high schools. Previously, enrollment was divided into two zones, and students could transfer out of their assigned school only if she would be of a minority in the school to which she would transfer. The approved plan would also establish a magnet program at each high school. The District's plan was approved over the objection of the government, which would have rather had the court consolidate the system into one junior high school and one high school. 923 F. Supp. 2d 876.

On April 30, 2013, the court denied the government's motion to alter or amend the judgment. 2013 WL 12182623. Then, on July 1, 2013, the United States appealed the denial of a motion to alter the judgment.

On April 1, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the January 24, 2013, opinion of the District Court. The Court of Appeals stated that the district court never explained why consolidating the schools would be problematic, especially when only two of each school type exist in close distance to one another. The Court of Appeals also pointed out that the previous majority-to-minority transfer program showed that no white students were choosing to enroll in the majority African American school, and so wanted an explanation as to how an open enrollment system would have a different result and eliminate racially identifiable schools. The Court of Appeals did not think an open enrollment plan inadequate but remanded the case with an order that the district court examine alternatives and explain its reasoning. 748 F.3d 233.

When the case was back to the district court, Judge Davidson issued an order recusing himself from this action, and the case was re-assigned to Judge Brown.

Judge Brown set specific deadline for each party to submit proposal and conduct discoveries. On May 13, 2016, the court entered the judgment. In the opinion, the court closely examined and analyzed the three plans proposed by both parties: (1) the District’s preferred Plan A, (2) the District’s alternative Plan B, and (3) the U.S. Plan.

  • Plan A sought to continue Judge Davidson’s open enrollment plan.
  • Plan B created a system where the District would assign every student to East Side High, the formerly all-Black high school, and then re-open Cleveland High, the formerly all-White high school, as a “STEM magnet with local arts partnerships.” The admission for the Cleveland High will be determined by a computer lottery. East Side High would operate the IB program and the early college program described in Plan A.
  • The United States’ plan required the simultaneous consolidation of the District’s high schools and the District’s middle schools.
The court made clear that the standard for a district court to decide a desegregation case is to sort through the various proposed remedies, exclude those that are inadequate or infeasible and adopt the one that is most likely to achieve the desegregation. In considering the proper means to desegregate the District, the court concluded that the District's Plan A was inadequate to desegregate the schools, and that Plan B was inadequate and infeasible.

The court thus adopted the United States' plan. It further directed both parties to submit to a proposed timeline to implement the United States' plan in such a way as to ensure the immediate termination of the District’s dual system in its high schools and middle schools. 186 F. Supp. 3d 564

On August 1, 2016, the district court denied the District's motion to modify the desegregation order. 2016 WL 4384740. On July 1, the District filed a notice of appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the Court's May 13 desegregation order. On September 29th, the district court denied the District's motion to stay the order and deferred the district's motion for reconsideration of the order pending an evidentiary hearing.

On October 14, 2016, the District filed its proposed desegregation plan that complied with the court's order. The District addressed the details of implementing a desegregation plan for the 2017-2018 school year for grades 6 through 12, including implementation timeline, student capacity, and educational programs. The District stated that desegregation would be achieved because the entire student population in grades 7 through 12 would be assigned to the same school and most students in grade 6 will be assigned to a different but singular school. The plan also detailed what sort of impact the changes would have on faculty, staff, extra-curricular activities, transportation, and facilities.

A week later, the United States filed its objections to the District's plan, arguing that the District had offered a plan that only perpetuated the problem it purported to resolve. In its brief, the United States argued that in creating a single school, the plan called for the closure of an all-black high school, which "perpetuates the racial stigma that has long been attached to Cleveland’s East Side community...[and] also places the entire burden of desegregation upon black students and their families." The United States also argued that the plan is based on an "unsubstantiated fear of white flight."

The District filed a revised plan in response on November 18, 2016, calling for all students in grades 6 through 8 be assigned to one campus, all students in grades 9 and 10 be assigned to East Side High School, and all students in grades 11 and 12 be assigned to Cleveland High School.

The parties engaged in settlement discussions, but failed to reach agreement about a mutually satisfactory desegregation plan. Discovery continued. On January 17, 2017, the Fifth Circuit stayed the case pending the appeal. Later that month, however, the parties reached a settlement agreement. Under the agreement, the District was to consolidate students in grades 9 through 12 into a single high school located in the current facilities at Cleveland High School and Margaret Green Junior High School. The District was also to assign all students in grades 7 and 8 to a consolidated middle school located in the current East Side High School facility. The District was also to further expand grades available at three specific elementary schools to include grade 6. These changes were to be made in time for the 2017-2018 school year.

The Fifth Circuit dismissed the case on March 9, 2017, after the District filed a motion to dismiss its appeal the day prior.

The district court closed the case on September 20, 2017. However, the court required the District to submit annual reports regarding the status of its desegregation effort, which it continues to do every year. At some point in 2020, the National Center for Youth Law joined as co-counsel for the plaintiffs as the District continued its ongoing desegregation process.

Summary Authors

Claire Lally (11/25/2014)

Sihang Zhang (10/27/2016)

Virginia Weeks (10/22/2017)

Matthew Feng (9/11/2021)

People


Judge(s)

Brown, Debra Marie (Mississippi)

Davidson, Glen H. (Mississippi)

Graves, James Earl Jr. (Mississippi)

King, Carolyn Dineen (Texas)

Leventhal, Melvyn R. (New York)

Nichols, John A. (Alabama)

Southwick, Leslie (Mississippi)

Virden, Jane M. (Mississippi)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Aronson, Henry A. (Mississippi)

Banks, Fred L. Jr. (Mississippi)

Judge(s)

Brown, Debra Marie (Mississippi)

Davidson, Glen H. (Mississippi)

Graves, James Earl Jr. (Mississippi)

King, Carolyn Dineen (Texas)

Leventhal, Melvyn R. (New York)

Nichols, John A. (Alabama)

Southwick, Leslie (Mississippi)

Virden, Jane M. (Mississippi)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Aronson, Henry A. (Mississippi)

Banks, Fred L. Jr. (Mississippi)

Bell, Derrick A. Jr. (New York)

Belway, Shakti (Louisiana)

Bhargava, Anurima (District of Columbia)

Clark, Leroy D. (Mississippi)

Greenberg, Jack (New York)

Hall, Carsie A. (Mississippi)

Turnage, Ellis (Mississippi)

Wardenski, Joseph J (District of Columbia)

Zarr, Melvyn (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Alexander, W.B. (Mississippi)

Cox, Ancil L. Jr. (Mississippi)

Griffith, Ellie (Mississippi)

Hooks, John Simeon (Mississippi)

Jacks, Gerald Haggart (Mississippi)

Luckett, Semmes (Mississippi)

Oswalt, Lindsey N. (Mississippi)

Pearson, John (Mississippi)

Porter, Leon Jr. (Mississippi)

Watson, Lindsey O. (Mississippi)

Other Attorney(s)

Adams, Felicia C. (Mississippi)

Ahmad, Aziz (District of Columbia)

Beauchamp, Peter W (District of Columbia)

Breen-Portnoy, Ceala Eloise (District of Columbia)

Fischbach, Jonathan (District of Columbia)

Gardner, Kelly D. (District of Columbia)

Perez, Thomas E. (District of Columbia)

Wohlenhaus, Renee M. (District of Columbia)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Docket

Cowan and US vs. Bolivar County Board of Education

June 8, 2007 Docket

Docket II [PACER]

Cowan and US vs. Bolivar County Board of Education

March 9, 2018 Docket
5

United States' Motion for Further Relief

Cowan and US vs. Bolivar County Board of Education

May 2, 2011 Pleading / Motion / Brief
42

Memorandum Opinion [Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion for Relief]

Cowan and US vs. Bolivar County Board of Education

914 F.Supp.2d 801

March 28, 2012 Order/Opinion
78

Memorandum Opinion [Holding that Open Enrollment is a Constitutionally Adequate Desegregation Plan]

Cowan and US vs. Bolivar County Board of Education

923 F.Supp.2d 876

Jan. 24, 2013 Order/Opinion
84

Response to The United States' Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment

Cowan and US vs. Bolivar County Board of Education

March 18, 2013 Pleading / Motion / Brief
85

Reply Brief

US v. Bolivar County Board of Education

March 28, 2013 Pleading / Motion / Brief
90

Opinion

Cowan United States v. Bolivar County Board of Education

2013 WL 12182623

April 30, 2013 Order/Opinion
97

Judgment [Reversing and Remanding Case]

Cowan and US vs. Bolivar County Board of Education

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

748 F.3d 233

April 1, 2014 Order/Opinion
102

Consent Order Report

Cowan and US vs. Bolivar County Board of Education

Sept. 2, 2014 Monitor/Expert/Receiver Report

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Mississippi

Case Type(s):

School Desegregation

Key Dates

Filing Date: July 25, 1965

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Students of the Bolivar County School District

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

National Center for Youth Law

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Bolivar County (Bolivar), School District

Defendant Type(s):

Elementary/Secondary School

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Title IV, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000c et seq.

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Attorneys fees

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Litigation

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Order Duration: 1969 - None

Content of Injunction:

Develop anti-discrimination policy

Discrimination Prohibition

Magnet school

Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention

Reporting

Student assignment

Issues

General:

Education

Racial segregation

School/University Facilities

School/University policies

Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)

Discrimination-area:

Zoning

Discrimination-basis:

Race discrimination

Race:

Black

Type of Facility:

Government-run