An effort by Decatur City Schools to end court-supervised desegregation oversight has been opposed by two residents, but has the backing of the U.S. Department of Justice.
One former school board member and one parent of a DCS student filed objections in advance of a federal court hearing scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Decatur.
Justice Department attorneys and a private attorney representing the plaintiffs in their efforts to enforce desegregation orders going back to 1970, however, didn’t object to Decatur City Schools being granted unitary status.
Federal Judge R. David Proctor will hold Wednesday's fairness hearing in the federal courthouse on Well Street “to receive any objections or additional information” from the community about the school district’s request for unitary status.
A system is "unitary" if it has successfully met legal desegregation requirements. When DCS was added in 1968 as a defendant in the Lee vs. Macon County Board of Education lawsuit, it had a segregated, or "dual" system.
Without some kind of oversight, former DCS board member Tommy Sykes worries that “future generations of board members and superintendents” will ignore policies and court agreements put in place to assure that Decatur does not return to operating dual school systems.
Sykes and Doris Baker objected to DCS and Justice Department proposals that the school system receive unitary status. Both said they wanted to make oral arguments to the judge on Wednesday.
“My fears are that this school system will return to its old practices,” Baker said in court documents.
She expressed concerns about the number of black students being expelled or sent to the Center for Alternative Programs, but the only issue keeping DCS from getting unitary status is the system’s hiring practices.
Proctor granted the district partial unitary status in July 2012 when he ended oversight in five of the six “Green Factors,” court precedents that set the requirements that must be met to bring the desegregation order to an end.
The court retained oversight of the district’s hiring practices because the school district and plaintiffs agreed at the time the courts should continue to monitor a Decatur City Schools hiring process that had been in place three years.
Tuscaloosa attorney Rusty Gibson, who represents the school system, said in a recent court filing that the school district has “met its constitutional obligations regarding teacher hiring and assignments and should be declared unitary.”
The Justice Department agreed, writing in court filings that the government “has no objections” to the court granting “unitary status with respect to the remaining area of the district’s operations: faculty hiring and assignment.”
Attorney Stanley Gray, who represents the plaintiffs in the case, did not object to DCS getting unitary status in a May 31 filing, but he did point out that the school system has the “responsibility to act in good faith” if unitary status is granted.
The school system, he wrote, “must show not only past good-faith compliance, but a good-faith commitment to the future operation of the school system through specific policies, decisions, and courses of action,” Gray wrote.
Superintendent Michael Douglas said the school district intends to continue to use the Alabama State Department of Education’s Hire Enterprise hiring system, formerly known as SearchSoft, that has been in place since 2009.
Hire Enterprise allows certified employees to fill out applications online and list school systems where they want to work. This is where DCS posts job openings. The software generates a list of qualified candidates who are referred to DCS based on years of experience and level of education.
Each certified applicant seeking employment with DCS is required to participate in a prescreening interview that is conducted by a diverse team composed of principals or supervisors, according to the court documents filed by DCS.
The district has a ranking system that scores applicants with 0-30 points. Applicants who receive a score of 18 or above are considered "HR Recommended" and their names are placed in an online data system, which signals to principals and supervisors that the applicants are eligible to interview for open positions in DCS, according to court documents.
"Every effort is made to interview at least 10 candidates," Gibson wrote in his May 31 filing.
Before DCS began using the state hiring system, candidates took applications directly to the school, which plaintiffs argued gave in-school candidates and local applicants an advantage.
Plaintiffs in the desegregation suit called the process unfair.
The school system has never been under a mandate to hire anyone of a particular race, but it had to create a hiring mechanism that is “open and equal for everyone,” court records show.
Gibson included an exhibit in his May 31 filing showing that 17.48% of the school system’s certified employees in 2018-19 were black. This number was up from 2006-2007 when 15% of the certified employees were black, court records show.