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Half-Century-Old Ga. Desegregation Case Nears End

In Richmond County, Ga., a 49-year-old desegregation case is up for a hearing that might end court-ordered busing in the 32,000-student district, the Augusta Chronicle reports.

In a letter (here are parts one, two, three, and four), Senior U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. calls for a hearing at which the plaintiffs in the case—Robert L. Acree v. the County Board of Education of Richmond County, Ga.—will need to show why the case should not be dismissed and the school system declared unitary.

The district began a busing program in 1972 in order to achieve racial balance in its schools.

The demographics of the district have changed since then. The district is currently 73 percent African-American.

The judge writes: "When the case was filed, the school system...was racially segregated as to students, faculty, and administrators." Now, however, the school's pupils, teachers, and administrators are predominantly African American. "No one seems to know quite why [the case] is still pending," he writes. "If it can be said that the school system's desegregation objectives cannot be met with the presently composed school board and three successive black school superintendents, what is the prospect for the future?"

In the letter, the judge suggests that the school district is suffering from a case of "Alabama Punting Syndrome"—that is, when a state or local agency "punts" its problem to the federal courts. (See this Reuters story for a more thorough explanation.)

Whether or not it's a punt, figuring out how to fairly and justly assign students to school is certainly not an easy question. For instance, Boston just redid its student assignment plan for the first time since it was declared unitary in the 1980s. That city, too, has seen its population of white students decline, which led many to question the value of an assignment system initially intended to bring together students of different racial backgrounds.

But, as court-ordered desegregation cases wind down in districts around the country, some have argued that schools around the country are resegregating. Here's a paper from Stanford University's Sean Reardon that makes the case that the effects of court-ordered desegregation fade once court oversight ends. That's particularly a problem in the South, according to research from Kori J. Stroub at the University of Texas at Austin and Meredith P. Richards at the University of Pennsylvania, which found that while segregation overall in the country is declining, the end of court-ordered desegregation does seem to be leading to increased racial segregation in schools south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The hearing in Richmond County is later this month.

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