Hoover school officials this week are nearing another deadline for a court filing related to the redrawing of school attendance zones.
U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala in January gave the school system, U.S. Department of Justice and NAACP Legal Defense Fund a two-month extension to file a report with the court regarding how the school system is doing in meeting desegregation goals and how those issues affect the rezoning plan.
The report initially was due Jan. 13, but the parties asked for more time, so Haikala gave them until March 17 to file it.
Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy told the school board Monday night that she is hopeful the school district and other parties by Friday will have a joint recommendation for the judge to move forward with rezoning.
The rezoning plan submitted to the federal court in April of last year could potentially shift more than 2,200 students — just under 20 percent of the total student population — to a new school zone, according to an order issued by the judge in May.
School officials say the rezoning is needed to put children in schools closer to their homes, maximize use of existing school buildings and to make room for future growth.
Murphy said Monday night there have been a lot of conversations between the school district and Department of Justice in the last several weeks.
“We have had multiple requests from the Department of Justice to provide additional data, and we have worked diligently to put all that data together to keep that going in a timely fashion from the school district to the Department of Justice,” Murphy said. “We have answered every question. We have met every deadline. We’ve gathered all the data that has been requested of us, and we remain extremely optimistic and hopeful that on Friday we will have a joint recommendation to go forward to Judge Haikala.”
The judge will then take time to review the documents and ask any questions she might have or ask for any other data she might want to review, Murphy said.
“I can’t tell you what the date is as to when this might come to an approval for our rezoning plan, but I can tell you that we’ve not missed a beat in answering the questions, providing the data, meeting the timelines and being thoughtful and respectful to all parties through this process,” Murphy said.
Whit Colvin, an attorney representing the school board in the case, said he is not aware of any major impediments to moving forward in the case; there are just a lot of details that have to be addressed.
Some of the research being done involves a lot of forecasting and projections, he said. Everything revolves around the question of where students will go to school, and no one really knows what decisions parents will make once a rezoning plan is approved, he said. Some families may choose to move in order to stay in their current school, and each decision like that changes the demographic makeup of schools, he said.
School officials really won’t have a firm grip on the impact of rezoning decisions until official enrollment counts are taken after the zoning plan takes effect, Colvin said. Even then, school officials will have to continue analyzing data regarding desegregation goals, he said.
“It’s an ever-changing and evolving process,” Colvin said.
The overarching mandate of a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling is to make sure that black students are not treated unfairly with regard to student assignment, facilities, transportation and extracurricular activities, and that racial discrimination does not occur in the hiring and placement of faculty and staff.
Colvin said he understands there is some anxiety and uncertainty in the community as to why the process of getting a rezoning plan approved is taking so long.
“Everyone is doing the best they can,” he said. “Eventually, everybody will get on the same page, and we’ll get this done.”
There certainly are no guarantees, but he believes it is still possible to get a rezoning plan approved in time for the 2017-18 school year, he said.
Haikala's May 20 order indicated that 69 percent of the 2,200 or more students affected by the rezoning plan were elementary students, while 18 percent were middle school students and 13 percent were high school students.
However, the actual number of students who would have been switched to schools they would not otherwise attend probably would have been less than 2,200 because school officials had proposed to “grandfather” some students and let them stay in their current school zones.
The “grandfathering” plan would have allowed students in grades 8-11 to remain in their current high school zone until they graduated and students in grades 1, 4 and 7 to remain at their current school for one more year if they so chose.
It’s also worth noting that all of the numbers considered a year ago are now a year old and thus would be somewhat different this year.