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Meridian Schools No Longer Under Federal Supervision Stemming from 1965 Desegregation Lawsuit

Several children running away along a blue race track
Meridian Public Schools are no longer under federal supervision stemming from a 1965 desegregation order after a U.S. district judge granted the district unitary status on Sept. 12, 2023. Seen here, Meridian Public Schools elementary students participate in the district’s Elementary Track Meet on Sept. 7, 2023. Photo courtesy Meridian Public School District

The Meridian Public School District is no longer under federal supervision because it has taken sufficient steps to limit the effects of segregation, U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate found as he granted the district unitary status during a Sept. 12 hearing in Jackson, Miss. 

The ruling means the U.S. Justice Department will no longer monitor whether the school system is making equitable decisions regarding student, faculty and staff assignments, school realignments, transportation or facilities.

“For us, it’s a victory,” MPSD Superintendent Amy Carter told the Mississippi Free Press on Sept. 15. “It is a celebration of the dedication of our educators, our students, our leaders, our community. It is saying that we’ve worked hard and now the nation can see us and know us for who we truly are—a school district that goes above and beyond to help children find their potential and to help them achieve greatness. Now I think the narrative and the story can truly be told so that people know who we are and not who they thought we were.”

Meridian Public Schools and the U.S. Justice Department reached a consent decree in March 2013 to end harsh disciplinary practices that disproportionately affected Black students. A federal investigation found that Black students were five times more likely than white students to be suspended from classes and often received longer suspensions. The U.S. Justice Department said that the harsher sentences were given for “comparable misbehavior, even where the students were at the same school, were of similar ages, and had similar disciplinary histories.”

From left: Meridian Public Schools District Attorney John Compton; MPSD Superintendent Dr. Amy Carter; LaVonda Germany, MPSD Director of PBIS & Student Supports; Jaime Dole of Adams and Reese LLP Paralegal; and John Hooks, MPSD attorney with Adams and Reese LLP, were present for Judge Wingate’s ruling in favor of the Meridian Public School District on Sept. 12, 2023. Photo courtesy Meridian Public School District

The agreement required the district to comply with several measures such as limiting the use of discipline that removed students from classrooms, developing guidelines on law enforcement intervention and providing behavior management training for teachers and administrators. The district was ordered to end discriminatory punishment by the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

The 2013 agreement amended a consent decree enforced by the U.S. as part of a 1965 desegregation lawsuit against the district. The original school desegregation case began on May 10, 1965—11 years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Plaintiffs sued the Meridian Municipal Separate School District on behalf of themselves and a class consisting of all parents of Black students to end the district’s segregated school system. 

“We are encouraged by the steps the District has taken, which under the joint settlement agreement has resulted in unitary status, and must continue to take in order to ensure that Black students have a full and fair opportunity to learn and are not subject to excessive discipline,” Legal Defense Fund Assistant Counsel John Cusick said in a statement to the Mississippi Free Press. 

“That progress is directly due to the brave and courageous students and families who stood up and filed the initial lawsuit in 1965 when the District failed to comply with its constitutional obligations and the promise of Brown v. Board,” he continued. “May their courage and determination—and the Black community members who have carried on that work—continue to serve as the District’s moral compass in its commitment to providing quality and equal educational opportunities to Black students.” 

Of the 4,600 students in the district, 93% are Black. The district employs more than 900 employees which are over 60% Black. 

“We realize the practices we put in place are best practices for students and educators,” Carter told the Mississippi Free Press. “So us moving forward looks like us continuing to do the things that have worked well for our students and have worked well for our educators, as we did, as a requirement of the order. We’re no longer under federal oversight. It just means we do these things because it’s the right thing to do.”

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