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The Daily Tar Heel

Charlotte Scrutinizes Integration

A federal appeals court decision to re-examine a case questioning whether the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education has successfully integrated schools has caused chaos for officials trying to plan where students will attend school next year.

The 10-member 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided last week to hear the case that previously was ruled on in November by a panel of three judges.

The panel reversed a 1999 court decision ordering the district to stop integration practices -- such as busing.

The case questions whether the school board has followed the historic 1971 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering the integration of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.

The white parents filing the suit claim the school district is integrated -- meeting the court order.

But others claim the school system is not fully integrated -- meaning the court order still applies.

Luke Largess, a lawyer representing the black parents involved in the case, said he thinks most people are confused about the current case.

"Everyone casts it as a busing case," Largess said. "The case is about 'has the board done what the court ordered it to do,' and if not, how to fix it."

He also stressed that this case would establish a precedent for what school systems must do to satisfy a court order.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member Louise Woods said the board was planning to institute a plan to help students stay in one school but maintained the current plan in light of the court's decision.

"The Family Choice plan essentially gave students a home school guarantee according to certain guidelines," Woods said. "But since the courts change on us from one extreme to the other, we didn't feel we could go forward with the plan."

Maurice Green, general counsel for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, said the court's varying decisions have complicated the school board's actions.

"(The court) has continued to cause the board to have confusion about what to do concerning students," Green said.

Woods said she would have preferred the issue to never have gone to court because of the delays it causes in the board's decision-making process. "The best way to handle this (issue) is through the community," she said.

But Woods said she recognized the importance of the case, especially if it is appealed after the court's decision. "It does have national education implications," she said. "It's something that needs to be clarified for all school systems."

Largess said that if the court overturns the panel's decision, applying for a U.S. Supreme Court review of the case was a possibility.

"I think if the full court reverses the panel, there's a good chance that the Supreme Court could hear it," he said. "It's an interesting case."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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