Court rules against school consolidation

Published 8:17 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2023

By: Charlotte Reames

On Friday, Judge Keith Watkins issued an order in the desegregation case for Chambers County School District. The judge’s decision was that temporary consolidation at Valley High School places an undue burden on the Black students in LaFayette.

“Those plans create an undue burden on the black students at LaFayette High School. LaFayette High School shall remain open during the construction of the new high school,” the judge said in the order.

Students of LaFayette High School shall remain at the current location during the construction of the new high school. The judge also ordered that the School Board may proceed with its plans as presented to the court to build the new high school in Valley, AL.

The judge will soon release a final opinion with detailed instructions for progress reports. The story will be updated as more information is available.

Over the last year, the court has visited Chambers County’s proposed sites for the new high school. Watkins toured the Inspire Academy, LaFayette High School and Valley High School facilities in December.

The court also held two public hearings for the community to share their opinions. The final hearing in January took place over three days and was broadcast to the Chambers County Courthouse in LaFayette.

During the hearing, the CCSD presented its plans to consolidate and construct the new high school. The plaintiffs, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, argued that LaFayette’s submitted sites were overlooked and the selected site did not comply with the original order that required it to be somewhere along Highway 50.

“Moreover, the history of this case, which started in its present form in 1970, and the orders entered over the ensuing fifty-two years, have been considered, along with extensive briefing and motion practice over the last three years,” Watkins said in the order.

Education Special Counsel for the Legal Defense Fund said the plaintiff in the case is pleased the court recognizes the burden placed on Black students in LaFayette and although they are disappointed that the new school site will not be in a central location, the LDF will continue to defend Black students in Chambers County,

“We are please the court recognized the disproportionate burden that the Chambers County Board of Education’s consolidation plan placed on Black students in LaFayette and at the historically Black LaFayette High School,” Education Special Counsel GeDá Jones Herbert said in an email to VTN. “The court is right to order the Board keep LaFayette High School fully operational until a new consolidated high school is built. While we are disappointed that the court is not requiring the district to build the new consolidated high school in a central location, LDF will continue to fight vigorously for all Black students in the Chambers County School District.”

Read the full order here.