Fourth Circuit: Pitt County Desegregation Order Stands

By Robyn Hagan Cain on May 08, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education 58 years ago, but some public school systems are still operating under federal desegregation orders to achieve the goals set in that landmark decision.

The Pitt County School System is one of those monitored school systems.

In the 1960s, a district court in North Carolina determined that the Pitt County School Board was operating a racially segregated dual school district in violation of students' rights to equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Subsequently, the district court approved desegregation plans that, through busing and other means, were designed to "eliminate the racial identity" of schools within the district.

Over the last six years, parents and community groups have been arguing in federal court over whether the school should continue to be subject to the desegregation plan. This week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Pitt County will remain under federal oversight.

If you're litigating a similar claim, keep in mind that, as a condition precedent to lifting desegregation orders, school districts must:

  • Comply in good faith with the orders;
  • Eliminate the vestiges of former de jure segregation to the maximum extent practicable; and
  • Be adjudicated, by a federal court, as operating racially "unitary"--as opposed to "dual"--school systems.

Prior to being declared unitary by a federal court, school districts operate under an affirmative obligation to eliminate unconstitutional dual school systems, as well as under a rebuttable presumption that any current racial disparities are the result of past unconstitutional conduct.

Time alone is not enough to heal the wounds of discrimination; federal courts will not lift a desegregation order unless a school system can demonstrate that it is unitary.

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