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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 concludes 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. The court 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 Oct. 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 will be achieved because the entire student population in grades 7 through 12 will 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 will 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 in fact perpetuated the problem it purported to resolve. 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 Nov. 18, 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 Jan. 17, 2017, the appellate court 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 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 appellate court dismissed the case on Mar. 9, 2017, and the case was closed on Sept. 20.

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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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Develop anti-discrimination policy
Discrimination Prohibition
Magnet school
Monitoring
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
Defendant-type
Elementary/Secondary School
Discrimination-area
Zoning
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
General
Education
Racial segregation
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff
Race
Black
Type of Facility
Government-run
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 granted Unknown
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
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1969 - n/a
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
2:65-cv-00031-DMB (N.D. Miss.)
SD-MS-0007-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/08/2007
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
2:65-cv-31 (N.D. Miss.)
SD-MS-0007-9001.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/25/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
United States' Motion for Further Relief [ECF# 5]
SD-MS-0007-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/02/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion for Relief] [ECF# 42] (914 F.Supp.2d 801) (N.D. Miss.)
SD-MS-0007-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 03/28/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [Holding that Open Enrollment is a Constitutionally Adequate Desegregation Plan] [ECF# 78] (923 F.Supp.2d 876) (N.D. Miss.)
SD-MS-0007-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 01/24/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Response to The United States' Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment [ECF# 84]
SD-MS-0007-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 03/18/2013
Source: Pro Publica
Reply Brief [ECF# 85]
SD-MS-0007-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/28/2013
Source: Pro Publica
Judgment [Reversing and Remanding Case] [Ct. of App. ECF# 97] (748 F.3d 233)
SD-MS-0007-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/01/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Consent Order Report [ECF# 102]
SD-MS-0007-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/02/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order [ECF# 215] (186 F.Supp.3d 564) (N.D. Miss.)
SD-MS-0007-0009.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/13/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 235] (2016 WL 5462820) (N.D. Miss.)
SD-MS-0007-0010.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 09/29/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Brown, Debra Marie (N.D. Miss.)
SD-MS-0007-0009 | SD-MS-0007-0010 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Davidson, Glen H. (N.D. Miss.)
SD-MS-0007-0005 | SD-MS-0007-0006
Graves, James Earl Jr. (State Supreme Court, Fifth Circuit)
SD-MS-0007-0007
King, Carolyn Dineen (Fifth Circuit)
SD-MS-0007-0007
Southwick, Leslie (Fifth Circuit)
SD-MS-0007-0007
Virden, Jane M. Court not on record [Magistrate]
SD-MS-0007-9001
Plaintiff's Lawyers Adams, Felicia C. (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-0001
Ahmad, Aziz (District of Columbia)
SD-MS-0007-9001
Alexander, John Marshall (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-0004
Aronson, Henry A. (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Banks, Fred L. Jr. (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Bell, Derrick A. Jr. (New York)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Belway, Shakti (Louisiana)
SD-MS-0007-9001
Bhargava, Anurima (District of Columbia)
SD-MS-0007-0004
Breen-Portnoy, Ceala Eloise (District of Columbia)
SD-MS-0007-9001
Clark, Leroy D. (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Fischbach, Jonathan (District of Columbia)
SD-MS-0007-0001 | SD-MS-0007-0004 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Gardner, Kelly D. (District of Columbia)
SD-MS-0007-9001
Greenberg, Jack (New York)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Hall, Carsie A. (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Perez, Thomas E. (District of Columbia)
SD-MS-0007-0001 | SD-MS-0007-0004
Turnage, Ellis (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9001
Wardenski, Joseph J (District of Columbia)
SD-MS-0007-9001
Wohlenhaus, Renee M. (District of Columbia)
SD-MS-0007-0001 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Zarr, Melvyn (New York)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Adams, Holmes S. (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-0002 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Alexander, W.B. (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Cox, Ancil L. Jr. (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Griffith, Ellie (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Hooks, John Simeon (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-0002 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Jacks, Jamie F (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-0008 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Jacks, Gerald Haggart (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-0002 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Luckett, Semmes (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Oswalt, Lindsey N. (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-0002
Pearson, John (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Porter, Leon Jr. (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9000
Watson, Lindsey O. (Mississippi)
SD-MS-0007-9001

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