Pitt County schools have fulfilled the obligations to effectively integrate their schools as required under desegregation orders first entered more than 40 years ago, and need no longer remain subject to federal oversight, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision released today.

Writing for the panel in Everett v. Pitt County Board of Education, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Albert Diaz said:

[W]e need look no further for proof than the fact that the desegregation orders remained administratively closed for over thirty-five years, during which time the Board undertook the task of integrating the schools relatively undisturbed. Until 2008, no party came before the district court accusing the Board of neglecting or disregarding its obligations under the desegregation orders. And when this case was reopened, it was as a consequence of a dispute regarding the 2006-07 student assignment plan in which certain parents essentially argued that the Board went too far in its efforts to desegregate the schools. Moreover, in the proceedings leading up to the district court’s 2009 consent order, Plaintiffs and the Board were both aligned in opposition to the Association’s motion for declaration of unitary status.

From the date the district court entered its desegregation orders, school administrators took immediate steps to effectively integrate their schools and move them toward unitary status. In very short order, both school districts had almost completely eliminated racially identifiable schools. While racial imbalance returned over the succeeding years, the respective boards consistently took measures to bring their schools back into balance.

Post-merger, the consolidated Board used satellite attendance areas and busing to maintain racial balance. When demographic factors caused an increase in racially identifiable schools, the Board took reasonable steps to restore balance. Ultimately, a substantial number of schools were able to achieve racial balance, and maintain it as of the 2011-12 school year. In short, we are convinced that the Board has acted in good faith since the entry of the desegregation orders in 1970.

Judge Paul Niemeyer joined in the opinion, but Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. dissented.

In finding that the district applied a flawed analysis and the majority on the appeals panel compounded that error, Wynn said:

Our consideration of this case does not occur in a vacuum. The rapid rate of de facto resegregation in our public school system in recent decades is well-documented. As one scholar put it, “Schools are more segregated today than they have been for decades, and segregation is rapidly increasing.”

Today the majority upholds the Board’s promulgation of a student assignment plan that, Appellants argue, furthers this trend. The majority reaches that result out of deference to a district court decision that utterly fails to analyze the facts in this case in compliance with this Court’s instructions and established Supreme Court precedent.

Though it is pleasing to hear that the district court takes comfort in the Supreme Court’s recent proclamation in Shelby County v. Holder, that our “Nation has made great strides” in ensuring the civil rights of minorities since the 1960s, these words are not a panacea for difficult cases involving race, particularly when the “facts on the ground” “caution . . . against” resting on the laurels of prior generations. Undeniably, in certain cases, there are other famous words that ring all the more true: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

For more on the arguments in the Fourth Circuit, read here.

For more on the Pitt County case and other continuing desegregation battles in the South, read here.


During these past few busy months you may have missed the launch of ProPublica‘s “Segregation Now,” which takes a deep look at how how America’s schools have steadily resegregated since the Brown v. Board of Education federal ruling that was handed down sixty years ago.

The ProPublica series begins with Nikole Hannah-Jones’ investigation of Tuscaloosa’s city schools, which are among the most rapidly resegregating in the country. Not only is the story enriched with a beautiful visual layout and great interactive graphics, Hannah-Jones compels readers to put themselves into the shoes of the Dent family.

The Dents are a multi-generational family that has lived through it all in Tuscaloosa: Jim Crow-era public school segregation, the eventual efforts to desegregate after Brown, and today’s reality: public schools are moving back toward resegregation, and what that means for today’s Tuscaloosan youth.

Alabama is not alone in this trajectory. For example, here in North Carolina’s Pitt County, the issue of public school segregation has been front and center.

Pitt County has been under desegregation orders since 1965, when the federal court found that the district was operating racially-segregated, dual and unconstitutional school systems.

Pitt’s African American population stands today around 34 percent — but in its 35 public schools, African-American students make up the majority, according to district records. In 2012-13, close to 48 percent of its students were black, 38 percent white, and 10 percent Latino.

Last fall, a U.S. District Court judge lifted desegregation orders, finding the school district to have fully complied and achieved “unitary status,” or had fully desegregated its public school system.

An appeal of that decision will be heard in September the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Until then, check out the entire ProPublica series, “Segregation Now,” while you cool off by the pool this weekend.


Michael Cowin, Assistant Superintendent of Finance for Pitt County Schools, had some startling words for Pitt County School Board members last week, when he presented them with the Senate’s 2014 budget proposal for education.

“It appears that the Senate’s version of the budget proposes salary increases for teachers as a pawn in a political game that allows certain areas of education to be put on the chopping block.”

The Senate budget would cut 117 teacher assistants (TAs) from Pitt County schools, increase class sizes in second and third grades to eliminate 12 teaching positions, reduce the transportation budget by $300,000, and cut five school nurses from the district’s schools – an overall reduction of $5 million in state funding.

“It’s saying these areas aren’t needed,” said Cowin. “We need to promote to our legislative group the importance of teacher assistants in all areas, and not to be using such areas as leverage in a political game.”

Cowin also notes a key conflicting element contained in the Senate budget proposal – drastically cutting TAs while putting $300,000 into the Read to Achieve program, which relies on TAs to administer reading assessments that determine third graders’ reading proficiency.

Watch this cut of the video to see Cowin’s presentation and Board members’ reactions, who applauded Cowin for his courage to stand up and call out the Senate proposal as he saw it – a political game.

You can watch the entire Pitt County school board meeting from last week here.


Members of the Pitt County school board voted 9-1 Monday night to join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s new school voucher program—the sixth local school board to do so since the complaint was filed in mid-December. The school board also passed a resolution indicating their district would not participate in the new teacher contract system.

The North Carolina School Boards Association filed a complaint against the state on December 16, calling into question the General Assembly’s decision to provide $4,200 annual taxpayer-funded school vouchers for student attendance at private schools, alleging that the legislation violates the state constitution.

“There are serious legal and constitutional issues that surround this [voucher] program,” said attorney and former NC Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, who is working on behalf of the NC School Boards Association in the voucher litigation. “The declaratory judgment action says we have a responsibility under the constitution to provide a sound basic education to every child in the state and we need the court to answer this question.” Read More


Just two months after hearing argument from the parties in the Pitt County Schools desegregation case (read more here), Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard has ruled in favor of the school district, finding that it had in good faith complied with the court’s prior desegregation orders and achieved unitary status.

Wrote Howard:

As Chief Justice Roberts recently stated, times have changed since the 1960s. See Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct.2612, 2625-26 (2013) (noting that “our Nation has made great strides” in ensuring the civil rights of minorities). Our society no longer tolerates separate lunch counters, drinking fountains, schools and buses for individuals based on the color of their skin, their race, or their ethnicity. Minorities are not only entitled to vote, they “hold office at unprecedented levels.” Id. (quoting Northwest Austin Munic. Util. Dist. No. 1v. Holder, 557 u.s. 193, 202 (2009)). Nevertheless, some individual prejudices still exist and, history tells us, always will. However, it is not the function of this or any other court to assume the role of supervising our schools due to the prejudices of a few. The School Board has proven that the vestiges of state-mandated discrimination practiced over forty years ago have been eliminated to the extent practicable and that the School Board, as well as its predecessor boards, has complied in good faith with this court’s desegregation orders and possesses a good faith commitment to the eradication of de jure discrimination in its schools.

For these reasons, the court hereby GRANTS the School Board’s Motion for Declaration of Unitary Status.

Attorneys for the parties have not yet commented on the decision, but an appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely.

Read Howard’s full decision here.