Elizabeth Haddix, an adjunct professor at the UNC Center for Civil Rights and legal counsel for the complaints, said the board gave no reason for rejecting the reassignment plan in May.
“It is hard to explain their rejection of those plans as anything other than discriminatory based on the chain of events leading up to their May 2015 decision,” she said.
Erika Wilson, an assistant professor in UNC’s law school, said in an email racial segregation puts minority students in a position of disadvantage with regard to their education — but all students are impacted by racial segregation.
“Racial isolation and segregation in schools also harms white students by limiting their exposure to people who are not like them and reifying a white supremacy,” she said.
The case is reminiscent of a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court Case — Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 — in which the court ruled that race cannot be a compelling interest for school reassignment.
Dana Thompson Dorsey, assistant professor at UNC’s School of Education, said in an email she does not support the 2007 decision.
“I think the court’s interpretation of the law was incorrect given the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education and its progeny as well as this country’s history with race, racism and school segregation,” she said.
Wilson said the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding is often misconstrued to mean race cannot be used as a factor in districting, but actually the case states the use of race in district reassignment must pass strict scrutiny.
“The policy will then only pass constitutional muster if it is narrowly tailored to meet a compelling governmental interest,” she said.
Wilson said the U.S. Department of Justice sent out guidance on how school districts could consider race when assigning students to schools to avoid racial isolation.
“The Board in Harnett County did the exact opposite of what the guidance points sent out by the Department of Justice suggested, and instead adopted a plan that does zero to address racial segregation and isolation,” Wilson said.
Judy Robbins, a UNC student and N.C. state captain at Students For Education Reform, said school leadership often looks at policy decisions through a cost-benefit analysis, which doesn’t address racial imbalances.
“This approach, while convenient for leadership, fails to recognize that there are students at the receiving end of this analysis,” she said.
Robbins said the public education system must examine racial imbalances in schools more closely and find ways to become more inclusive of minorities.
“There are a lot of things that need to happen before the public education system serves black students the way it serves white students,” she said. “We need to think about how we can transform the system into a new model that isn’t meant only to serve the privileged.”