Posted on June 18, 2018

Hoover Schools on Path to End Federal Court Oversight in 53-Year-Old Lawsuit

Trisha Powell Crain,, June 14, 2018

With 2,000 Hoover City students shifting school zones for the next school year, school officials there have taken the first big step toward ending federal oversight in a 53-year-old desegregation case, Superintendent Kathy Murphy said.


That first step, rezoning, has been three years in the making, designed in collaboration with U.S. Department of Justice attorneys and the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund.

Those three parties are at the table now because Hoover schools are governed by a court order stemming from a 1965 federal lawsuit, Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education, where the federal judge at that time said Jefferson County was operating a dual system of schools: one for white students and one for black students.

Since a 1971 order in that case, federal judges have continued oversight over county schools — including approval of attendance zones, construction projects and bus routes — to make sure racial balances are maintained and no discrimination occurs.


Of those remaining under the order, only Hoover and Jefferson County are actively pursuing unitary status and an end to court oversight.

Murphy became Hoover’s superintendent in 2015, after the decision to pursue unitary status was underway.


“We’ve got a moral imperative to get this right for all children,” Murphy said, “and that’s my focus.”

Retired federal Judge U.W. Clemon is once again part of the NAACP LDF team that represents black students in the Stout case. He first started working on the case in 1966 while still in law school and became the lead attorney on the case in 1968.

Clemon told if the three parties can come to agreement, a consent decree could be approved by the court. In March, the federal judge gave the parties until Oct. 5 to reach that agreement. But, Clemon said, “The agreement to a consent decree is only a beginning.”


Even then, he said, “It’s going to be years before we can really determine whether the plan worked.”

Acknowledging the length of time the order has been in place, Clemon said he is encouraged by recent court monitoring under U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala, who oversees many of the open desegregation cases in Alabama Northern District.

Haikala, he said, “has the kind of commitment I’ve not seen by any other federal judge in this century.”


Each party in the case, the U.S. DOJ, the NAACP LDF, and Hoover City schools, filed a review of those factors in May.

Discipline disparity

Both the DOJ and the NAACP LDF found disparities in the rates of discipline between black students and white students. For example, the DOJ, using data provided by Hoover, found that during the 2016-2017 school year, black students were four times more likely than white students to be given an out-of-school suspension. Here’s a sampling of what that looked like at the school level:

At Hoover’s alternative school, known as the Second Chance program, from 2013-2014 through February of this year, of the 475 students sent to alternative school, 51 percent were black and 41 percent were white. The district’s overall population this year is 25 percent black and 57 percent white.

Both the DOJ and the LDF recommended Hoover hire a consultant to help with strategies to lower those disparities. Hoover City Schools are now working with the University of Alabama’s Positive Behavior Support Office as a result of those discussions, Murphy said.

In the area of enrichment, both the DOJ and the LDF found far fewer black students are given elementary enrichment opportunities.


Overall, according to the LDF filing, “White elementary students were more than 3 times as likely as black elementary school students to be identified for Hoover’s 2017 enrichment program.”

In their Green factor review, Hoover acknowledges there is work to be done, {snip}.


Orletta Rush is overseeing Jefferson County’s path to unitary status. Rush is Director of Special Initiatives for the county district and has been doing the groundwork, gathering the data, answering questions for the DOJ and the LDF and asking questions of her own.


All of that work is worth it, Rush said, with the end goal in mind. “To think that in five years we could get the stamp to say that we have done what we needed to do to gain unitary status — I don’t think a lot of people understand just how amazing that is.”


Half century of oversight

Every Alabama school district was placed under a federal order to integrate schools during the 1960s because of the massive resistance to the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The orders were not designed to be permanent, but rather to motivate school officials to integrate schools quickly. Most of those orders have been lifted, but as many as 45 still remain in effect.


Clemon, too, looks forward to seeing both districts gain unitary status. He said he had no idea when he began working on the Stout case as a law student in 1966, that it would still be open 50-plus years later. “I guess I was naive in those days,” he said.

“Because I thought that once you started desegregating faculty and putting blacks and whites in the same classrooms, the racial problem would largely disappear in the education context. But I was profoundly wrong about that. Because there are still some folks — like in the recent case of Gardendale — who cling on to the past with respect to notions of racial superiority. And so we haven’t moved — and indeed the nation hasn’t moved nearly as far as I thought it would have 50 years ago when I graduated from law school.”