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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
Attorney Organization National Center for Youth Law
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 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. 914 F. Supp. 2d 801.

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. 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. 923 F. Supp. 2d 876.

On April 30, 2013, the court denied the government's motion to alter or amend the judgment. 2013 WL 12182623. Then, on July 1, 2013, the United States appealed the denial of a motion to alter the judgment.

On April 1, 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 of Appeals 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. 748 F.3d 233.

When the case was back to the district court, Judge Davidson issued an order recusing himself from this action, and the case was re-assigned to Judge Brown.

Judge Brown set specific deadline for each party to submit proposal and conduct discoveries. On May 13, 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, the formerly all-Black high school, and then re-open Cleveland High, the formerly all-White high school, 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 concluded that the District's Plan A was inadequate to desegregate the schools, and that Plan B was inadequate and infeasible.

The court thus adopted the United States' plan. It 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. 186 F. Supp. 3d 564

On August 1, 2016, the district court denied the District's motion to modify the desegregation order. 2016 WL 4384740. On July 1, the District filed a notice of appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the Court's May 13 desegregation order. On September 29th, the district court denied the District's motion to stay the order and deferred the district's motion for reconsideration of the order pending an evidentiary hearing.

On October 14, 2016, the District filed its proposed desegregation plan that complied with the court's order. 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 would be achieved because the entire student population in grades 7 through 12 would 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 would 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 only perpetuated the problem it purported to resolve. In its brief, 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 November 18, 2016, 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 January 17, 2017, the Fifth Circuit 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 also 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 Fifth Circuit dismissed the case on March 9, 2017, after the District filed a motion to dismiss its appeal the day prior.

The district court closed the case on September 20, 2017. However, the court required the District to submit annual reports regarding the status of its desegregation effort, which it continues to do every year. At some point in 2020, the National Center for Youth Law joined as co-counsel for the plaintiffs as the District continued its ongoing desegregation process.

Claire Lally - 11/25/2014
Sihang Zhang - 10/27/2016
Virginia Weeks - 10/22/2017
Matthew Feng - 09/11/2021


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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
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
Reporting
Student assignment
Defendant-type
Elementary/Secondary School
Discrimination-area
Zoning
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
General
Education
Racial segregation
School/University Facilities
School/University policies
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
Indexed Lawyer Organizations National Center for Youth Law
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief 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
Filed 07/25/1965
Case Ongoing Yes
Court Docket(s)
N.D. Miss.
06/08/2007
2:65-cv-00031-DMB
SD-MS-0007-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
03/09/2018
2:65-cv-31
SD-MS-0007-9001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Miss.
05/02/2011
United States' Motion for Further Relief [ECF# 5]
SD-MS-0007-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
03/28/2012
Memorandum Opinion [Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion for Relief] [ECF# 42] (914 F.Supp.2d 801)
SD-MS-0007-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
01/24/2013
Memorandum Opinion [Holding that Open Enrollment is a Constitutionally Adequate Desegregation Plan] [ECF# 78] (923 F.Supp.2d 876)
SD-MS-0007-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
03/18/2013
Response to The United States' Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment [ECF# 84]
SD-MS-0007-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Source: Pro Publica
N.D. Miss.
03/28/2013
Reply Brief [ECF# 85]
SD-MS-0007-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: Pro Publica
N.D. Miss.
04/30/2013
Opinion [ECF# 90] (2013 WL 12182623)
SD-MS-0007-0011.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
04/01/2014
Judgment [Reversing and Remanding Case] [Ct. of App. ECF# 97] (748 F.3d 233)
SD-MS-0007-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
09/02/2014
Consent Order Report [ECF# 102]
SD-MS-0007-0008.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
05/13/2016
Opinion and Order [ECF# 215] (186 F.Supp.3d 564)
SD-MS-0007-0009.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
08/16/2016
Order [ECF# 225] (2016 WL 4384740)
SD-MS-0007-0012.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
N.D. Miss.
09/29/2016
Order [ECF# 235] (2016 WL 5462820)
SD-MS-0007-0010.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
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Judges Brown, Debra Marie (N.D. Miss.) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0009 | SD-MS-0007-0010 | SD-MS-0007-0012 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Davidson, Glen H. (N.D. Miss.) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0005 | SD-MS-0007-0006
Graves, James Earl Jr. (State Supreme Court, Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0007
King, Carolyn Dineen (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0007
Southwick, Leslie (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0007
Virden, Jane M. Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9001
Plaintiff's Lawyers Adams, Felicia C. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0001
Ahmad, Aziz (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0011 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Alexander, John Marshall (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0004
Aronson, Henry A. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Banks, Fred L. Jr. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Beauchamp, Peter W (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0011
Bell, Derrick A. Jr. (New York) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Belway, Shakti (Louisiana) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0011 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Bhargava, Anurima (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0004
Breen-Portnoy, Ceala Eloise (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0011 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Clark, Leroy D. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Fischbach, Jonathan (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0001 | SD-MS-0007-0004 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Gardner, Kelly D. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0011 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Greenberg, Jack (New York) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Hall, Carsie A. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Perez, Thomas E. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0001 | SD-MS-0007-0004
Turnage, Ellis (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0011 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Wardenski, Joseph J (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9001
Wohlenhaus, Renee M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0001 | SD-MS-0007-0011 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Zarr, Melvyn (New York) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Adams, Holmes S. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0002 | SD-MS-0007-0011 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Alexander, W.B. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Cox, Ancil L. Jr. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Griffith, Ellie (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Hooks, John Simeon (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0002 | SD-MS-0007-0011 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Jacks, Gerald Haggart (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0002 | SD-MS-0007-0011 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Jacks, Jamie F (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0008 | SD-MS-0007-0011 | SD-MS-0007-9001
Luckett, Semmes (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Oswalt, Lindsey N. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0002
Pearson, John (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Porter, Leon Jr. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-9000
Watson, Lindsey O. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0007-0011 | SD-MS-0007-9001

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