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Alabama District Files Court Papers in Desegregation Case on Secession

The predominantly white Alabama town seeking to take control of its schools from a more racially diverse county system has filed court papers arguing that its actions were not motivated by race and would not harm the racial balance of the larger system.

The Gardendale City Board of Education moved quickly to file a cross-appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, after a civil rights group last week filed its appeal in a case that has garnered nationwide attention.

A federal district judge found earlier this year that race was a motivating factor in the Gardendale school district's effort to secede from the Jefferson County, Ala., school system. Nevertheless, the judge allowed Gardendale to take control of the two elementary schools within its limits. That decision was appealed Aug. 7 by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund on behalf of black schoolchildren as part of a long-running school desegregation case.

The Gardendale district's cross-appeal, filed Aug. 11, seeks the right to take control not just of the two elementary schools, but also the middle school and high school in the community. 

Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala had ruled that the upstart district could not take control of those campuses for at least three years, and that Gardendale would have to compensate the Jefferson County system for a relatively new high school building.

Gardendale also argues that the judge erroneously ruled that it was liable for statements by private individuals on social media that demonstrated racial bias in the runup to the creation of the separate city school district in 2014.

"They were ... the statements of private persons, none of whom were on the Gardendale Board and who collectively comprised a small fraction of the city's population," Gardendale's appeal says. "The court also erred by reading racism into comments expressing opinions about the socioeconomic and political potential of a smaller, more local school system. 

The district also argues that taking control of all four schools would not harm the racial balance of the Jefferson County system.

"Gardendale seeks to create a smaller, local school system to provide better schools for children of all races," the cross-appeal says. "Gardendale believes the lower court erred by obstructing that effort."

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