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It has been a big week for the plaintiffs in the trial of the federal lawsuit against Nashville's new student assignment plan. Let's review:
Expert witnesses testified
the plan isolates hundreds more children by race and socioeconomic status and contradicts decades of social science on how to teach poor urban kids. That research shows students learn less in schools where poverty is concentrated. That's because teachers are overwhelmed by all the problems these children face--poor health, hunger, drugs, gangs and violence, and a culture that scorns education. Poor students learn more in middle-class settings where aspirations are higher and the teachers typically are more experienced, these witnesses said. Neighborhood schools actually hinder learning
for children in poverty-stricken, high-crime sections of the city.
Given all that, why did the school board adopt the rezoning plan? The plaintiffs think they know the answer: White school board members were knuckling under to pressure from white parents and the Chamber of Commerce to end the busing of black children from north Nashville to Hillwood's schools.
To prove their theory, they've presented testimony about a memorandum
from former superintendent Pedro Garcia in which he claims he was intimidated and finally forced out of office for opposing a secret white conspiracy to resegregate our schools.
As an added bonus, witnesses have described
a closed-door meeting in which state Rep. Mike Turner urged black leaders to accept the rezoning plan. The meeting included Chamber of Commerce president Ralph Schulz who has repeatedly denied any involvement in the plan, even though one of his staffers belonged to the task force that recommended it. In defending the plan, Turner fondly recalled his boyhood days attending segregated schools in Nashville, these witnesses said.
At one point during the meeting, according to civil rights lawyer Larry Woods, who was there, Turner actually said, "Some of my best friends are black."
Perhaps most damning of all, Metro Council member Jerry Maynard testified about his private conversation with Schulz. It took place at an airport on a Chamber-sponsored trip to a Miami conference. Maynard testified Schulz said the rezoning plan aimed to remove children living in north Nashville's housing projects from Hillwood's schools because they "do not share the same values" of parents in the white suburbs.
The trial resumes Monday with more plaintiffs' witnesses. Next week, Metro begins its defense. Already, there are denials all around from the city's white officialdom. School board members say their goal was to return Nashville to neighborhood schools to encourage more parental involvement.
The NAACP-backed lawsuit asks Judge John Nixon to overturn the rezoning plan and order the school board to develop a new one that's acceptable to both sides by next summer. To win, they have to prove race was a motivating factor in the school board's adoption of the plan.
Yesterday, Nixon may have offered a glimpse into his thinking during the testimony of one expert witness, Leslie Zorwick, a psychology professor at Hendrix College in Arkansas.
As she talked about the difficulties of learning in "neighborhood schools" in the ghetto, Nixon interrupted with a question.
"Would you say that neighborhood is something that you escape?" Nixon asked
Zorwick said yes, it is something to escape.
At another point, the judge spoke up again, asking Zorwick to define paternalism--a word that hadn't come up in her testimony.
"That's acting as if we know better than a group of people what's best for them," she replied.
We think Nixon already knew the answers to his questions.