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Case Name Cowan and US v. Bolivar County Board of Education SD-MS-0007
Docket / Court 2:65-cv-00031 ( N.D. Miss. )
State/Territory Mississippi
Case Type(s) School Desegregation
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 ... read more >
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 for 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.

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, whereas 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.

On July 1, 2013, the United States appealed the denial of a motion to alter the judgment, and on June 2, 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 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.

When the case was back to the District Court, Judge Davidson issued an order recusing himself from this action and the case was later assigned to Judge Brown.

Judge Brown set specific deadline for each party to submit proposal and conduct discoveries. On May 13th, 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 and then re-open Cleveland High 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 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. 

On August 16th, 2016, the district court denied the District's motion to modify the desegregation order. On July 1, the District filed a notice of appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the Court’s desegregation order on May 13, 2016.
On September 29th, the district court denied District's motion to stay the order and deferred the district's motion for reconsideration of the order pending an evidentiary hearing.

The District filed its proposed desegregation plan on October 14, 2016. 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, and the district court closed the case on September 20, 2017.

Claire Lally - 11/25/2014
Sihang Zhang - 10/27/2016
Virginia Weeks - 10/22/2017

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Develop anti-discrimination policy
Discrimination Prohibition
Magnet school
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
Elementary/Secondary School
Race discrimination
Racial segregation
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Title IV, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000c et seq.
Defendant(s) Bolivar County
Plaintiff Description Students of the Bolivar County School District
Class action status sought Unknown
Class action status outcome Unknown
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Unknown
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1969 - n/a
Filed 07/25/1965
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Court Docket(s)
N.D. Miss.
SD-MS-0007-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
SD-MS-0007-9001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Miss.
United States' Motion for Further Relief [ECF# 5]
SD-MS-0007-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
Memorandum Opinion [Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion for Relief] [ECF# 42] (914 F.Supp.2d 801)
SD-MS-0007-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
Memorandum Opinion [Holding that Open Enrollment is a Constitutionally Adequate Desegregation Plan] [ECF# 78] (923 F.Supp.2d 876)
SD-MS-0007-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
Response to The United States' Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment [ECF# 84]
SD-MS-0007-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Source: Pro Publica
N.D. Miss.
Reply Brief [ECF# 85]
SD-MS-0007-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: Pro Publica
U.S. Court of Appeals
Judgment [Reversing and Remanding Case] [Ct. of App. ECF# 97] (748 F.3d 233)
SD-MS-0007-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
Consent Order Report [ECF# 102]
SD-MS-0007-0008.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
Opinion and Order [ECF# 215] (186 F.Supp.3d 564)
SD-MS-0007-0009.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
Order [ECF# 235] (2016 WL 5462820)
SD-MS-0007-0010.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Brown, Debra Marie (N.D. Miss.) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0009 | SD-MS-0007-0010 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Davidson, Glen H. (N.D. Miss.) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0005 | SD-MS-0007-0006
Graves, James Earl Jr. (State Supreme Court, Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
King, Carolyn Dineen (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
Southwick, Leslie (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
Virden, Jane M. Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Adams, Felicia C. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Ahmad, Aziz (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Alexander, John Marshall (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Aronson, Henry A. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Banks, Fred L. Jr. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Bell, Derrick A. Jr. (New York) show/hide docs
Belway, Shakti (Louisiana) show/hide docs
Bhargava, Anurima (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Breen-Portnoy, Ceala Eloise (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Clark, Leroy D. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Fischbach, Jonathan (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0001 | SD-MS-0007-0004 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Gardner, Kelly D. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Greenberg, Jack (New York) show/hide docs
Hall, Carsie A. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Perez, Thomas E. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0001 | SD-MS-0007-0004
Turnage, Ellis (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Wardenski, Joseph J (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Wohlenhaus, Renee M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0001 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Zarr, Melvyn (New York) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Adams, Holmes S. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0002 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Alexander, W.B. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Cox, Ancil L. Jr. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Griffith, Ellie (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Hooks, John Simeon (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0002 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Jacks, Gerald Haggart (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0002 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Jacks, Jamie F (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0008 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Luckett, Semmes (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Oswalt, Lindsey N. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Pearson, John (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Porter, Leon Jr. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
Watson, Lindsey O. (Mississippi) show/hide docs

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