Dougherty County school officials will continue moving forward with their school closure plan after a federal judge rules it does not violate a federal court order that says schools should be 50 percent black and 50 percent white.
For years school officials have been trying to get out from under that 50-year-old federal court order which is impossible to follow. They say they might be one step closer. Federal Judge Louis Sands ruled that the Dougherty County school system is not violating a court order by closing Dougherty Middle, Sylvester Road Elementary and re-purposing Magnolia Elementary.
"We did have to present to them what indeed we were doing and it seems like the court seems favorable on our proposal with regards to the closing of the two schools and re-purposing Magnolia," said DCSS Interim Superintendent David Mosely.
Board members voted to close the schools last month due to a declining student population and to save money. The school desegregation court order, that says schools should be 50 percent white and 50 percent black has been in place since the 1960s. It forces school officials to get approval from the federal court anytime the demographics of a school changes.
"Change in district, build a new school, or in this case close one, that has to be reported to the court in the event that it might somehow diminish minority opportunity to be educated in the school system. In this case, there is none of course," said DCSS Attorney Tommy Coleman.
The system filed an appeal 12 years ago saying the order is impossible to follow because the system is about 90% African-American.
"We have only one school that fits the 50/50 criteria established by the order in 1980 and that's Lake Park. Other than that, none of our schools really come close because of the changing demographics in the city of Albany and Dougherty County."
Coleman says with the changing laws, that provides more choices for students, gave them the push to address the issue again. "We asked the judge how to proceed and we intend to notify the lawyers who were involved with this about 10 years ago and see if they have any interest in proceeding. Then we'll see where that goes and go from there."
The school closures will take effect next year. And school officials feel a little closer in removing the order after receiving some direction from the federal court.
Tommy Coleman says the school system plans to contact Mark Pickett and Shaven King to see if their still interested in representing the other two parties involved in the suit.