Racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the Thomasville City School System by the Thomas County Chapter of the NAACP

Dr. Lee Shiver, a former Superintendent of the Thomasville City School System, was appointed the new director of the Georgia School for the Deaf in Rome. Dr. Shiver resigned as Superintendent of Pickens County schools in North Georgia in the Fall of 2005.

 

--Thomasville City Schools prevail in lawsuit brought by the NAACP and can recover costs.

 

--The federal court case that has been in litigation since 1998 against the Thomasville City School System accusing it of racial discrimination is sent back to District Court.

 

--Oral arguments in an appeal are set for February of 2005 in the six-year old case of the Thomas County Chapter of the NAACP against the Thomasville City School System charging it with racial discrimination.
 

--NAACP and the City School System each appeal lawsuit

 

--Ruling on lawsuit.

--The federal lawsuit filed against the Thomasville City School System alleged racial discrimination.

 

--The local NAACP filed a motion in the suit to keep Douglass Elementary School open.

 

--A separate lawsuit was filed against city schools, but eventually dismissed.

 

--While the legal disputes moved through the courts, the city school board had substantial changes in its membership and a change in superintendents.

 

THOMASVILLE CITY SCHOOLS PREVAIL IN LAWSUIT BROUGHT BY THE NAACP AND CAN RECOVER COSTS
A ruling has been handed down in a federal lawsuit brought by the Thomas County Branch of the NAACP against the Thomasville City School System charging the school system with racial discrimination. On Friday, April 21, 2006, US District Judge Clay Land ruled that "ability-grouping" by the school system was not illegal discrimination and he also ruled that the school system could recover some of its costs in fighting the suit from the NAACP.
--The court case has been in litigation since 1998 when the NAACP claimed the city school system with racial discrimination. A trial was conducted in 2003 and a ruling was made in favor of the school system. In 2005 the case was sent back to District Court according to a ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because the appeals court said the district court failed to apply the correct legal standard in an ability grouping issue raised in the lawsuit. The Appeals Court also told the District Court to reconsider declining to award costs to the school system as the prevailing party. The Appeals Court approved the other decisions by the District Court.
--In the opinion released April 21, 2006, Judge Land said, "The Court factually found that the imbalances [claimed by the NAACP to be discriminatory] were the result of the ability-grouping system used by the schools, that the children were grouped in that system based on their perceived ability, and that this ability was based on their impoverished circumstances more than anything else and was certainly not traceable to the de jure segregated school system." The opinion goes on to say, "Is the District's ability grouping the present result of past segregation? . . . the answer is clearly no." Judge Land said, "The Court finds that no child attending District schools at the time of trial had ever been enrolled in the District's previous de jure racially segregated system. The Court further finds that the achievement level of the black children in the certified class who have been placed in the lower achievement groups is not a result of the previous de jure segregated school system. Therefore, their placement in the lower achievement groups is not the present result of past segregation. Accordingly . . . the district's ability grouping does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment or Title IV." In the original judgment by Judge Land before the appeal, the court said the use of ability-grouping created racial imbalances in many of the classes in the various schools of the system, resulting in an overrepresentation of black students in less academically advanced classed and an overrepresentation of white students in more academically advanced classes. Judge Land said in his original decision that the tracking system was not intended to segregate students based upon race. The Appeals Court said Judge Land's decision focused on whether the tracking practice was intentionally discriminatory instead of determining if the ability-grouping was based on present results of past segregation or whether it would remedy such results.
--Judge Land also ruled that the Defendant, the school system, was "entitled to recover its costs of this action." Under federal rules, that does not mean the entire cost to the school system of fighting the lawsuit. It does not mean the system can recover attorney fees that some school officials estimated at more than $300,000, but it does mean that the cost of basically the paperwork, such as copying and compiling of documents, could be recovered from the NAACP. Those estimates are about $50,000.

 

NAACP SUIT AGAINST THOMASVILLE CITY SCHOOLS BACK TO DISTRICT COURT
The federal court case that has been in litigation since 1998 against the Thomasville City School System accusing it of racial discrimination is being sent back to District Court according to a ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Friday, September 23, 2005, the Court of Appeals ruled that the federal District Court failed to apply the correct legal standard in an ability grouping issue raised in the lawsuit. The Appeals Court also told the District Court to reconsider declining to award costs to the school system as the prevailing party. The Appeals Court did approve the other decisions by the District Court.
--The Appeals Court said in its opinion, "For the most part, we can discern no error in the district court's findings of fact or its application of the law . . . However, as to the plaintiffs' claim that the district's use of 'ability grouping' to determine classroom assignments discriminates on the basis of race, we conclude that the district court failed to apply the legal standard long accepted in this circuit, and that this legal error tainted its findings of fact." In the decision by the District Court, Judge Clay Land said the court found the use of ability-grouping created racial imbalances in many of the classes in the various schools of the system, resulting in an overrepresentation of black students in less academically advanced classed and an overrepresentation of white students in more academically advanced classes. Judge Land said in his original decision that the tracking system was not intended to segregate students based upon race. The Appeals Court said Judge Land's decision focused on whether the tracking practice was intentionally discriminatory instead of determining if the ability-grouping was based on present results of past segregation or whether it would remedy such results.
--A three-judge panel composed of Rosemary Barkett, Stanley Marcus and Richard F. Suhrheinrich heard the appeal. Suhrheinrich, a judge in the 6th U.S. Circuit, sat in on the case by designation.

 

ORAL ARGUMENTS SET
Oral arguments in an appeal are set for February of 2005 in the six-year old case of the Thomas County Chapter of the NAACP against the Thomasville City School System charging it with racial discrimination. The local civil rights organization is seeking to overturn a ruling by a federal judge who found the school system had not discriminated against blacks in the community. The city school board is seeking permission from the appeal court to try to recover part of its costs in fighting the case.
--The oral arguments in the appeal are expected to take place February 2, 2005, before a three-judge panel selected the week before the arguments from the members of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals based in Atlanta. The arguments are to be heard in Atlanta. According to the lawyer for the Thomasville City School Board, Jerry Lumley, of Lumley and Howell in Macon, the arguments will only take “hour or so” during a day where there will be oral arguments heard in several cases. Lumley said the appeals court, based on past cases, may take three to six months to make a decision. Lumley said if the decision by the three-judge panel is split 2-1, then “it is possible that the whole court will then hear the case.”
--Lumley said Tuesday, November 30, that the Appeals Court will not hear any new evidence, “only make a ruling to see if the evidence in the trial phase supported the decision. And we believe that the evidence supported the decision by the District Court judge that the school board did not practice discrimination.”
--Lumley also said the school board is asking the Court of Appeals to allow the District Court to rule on whether or not the board can recover from the NAACP some of the costs in fighting the lawsuit. Lumley said the board cannot recover attorney costs, but can recover other expenses of the lawsuit, such as copying documents, filing fees and such, “That has amounted to between 75-thousand and 100-thousand dollars. Probably the total cost to the taxpayers in fighting the case has been between 300-thousand and 400-thousand dollars.”
--The local chapter of the NAACP was represented in the trial, and is represented in the appeal, by the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C.,
--On February 5, 2004, District Court Judge Clay Land found that the Thomasville City School System did not engage in racial discrimination. In his ruling Judge Land also said the school system could not seek from the NAACP the recovery of money spent fighting the case. In a motion filed March 4, 2004, the NAACP said it intended to appeal Judge Land’s ruling. Lumley said that with the appeal by the NAACP, the city school system was free to seek payment from the NAACP for the costs of fighting the lawsuit and the city school system filed the motion to seek payment March 10, 2004.
--The case was originally filed October 2, 1998. The trial phase of the civil lawsuit took place in July and August of 2003, in Thomasville's Federal Court. The Thomas County chapter of the NAACP charged the city schools with racial discrimination and other illegal racial disparities, stating in the original filing of the suit, "The school district failed to desegregate after the Brown versus Board of Education decision; Thomasville elementary schools remain segregated by school despite the district's 'Freedom Of Choice' plan; MacIntyre Park Middle School and Thomasville High School are segregated by class and instructional level; discipline is applied unequally to students in the Thomasville school district; and programs such as Special Education, Gifted Program and Extracurricular Activities are segregated." The city school system denied the charges.
--After the trial, Judge Land ruled that the city school system "does not presently engage in racial discrimination as prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act" and that the schools "does not presently discriminate on the basis of race in any aspect of its operations." The Judge also said each side had to bear the cost of the lawsuit, in effect barring either side from seeking recompense for the costs of the suit.
--After the ruling by Judge Land, the Thomasville School Board decided not to appeal the prohibition on seeking repayment of the cost of the lawsuit, with some board members saying in any appeal, the entire case could be opened again and a different decision could take place. Only later, with the appeal filed by the NAACP, did the school board decide to ask for the restitution.
 

NAACP AND THE CITY SCHOOLS EACH APPEAL LAWSUIT
The Thomas County Branch of the NAACP has filed a notice with the federal courts that it intends to appeal the judgment of District Court Judge Clay Land in case of the organization's lawsuit against the Thomasville City School System charging racial discrimination. On February 5, 2004, Judge Land ruled that the Court found that the school system did not engage in racial discrimination. Judge Land also issued a ruling that said the school system could not seek from the NAACP the recovery of money spent fighting the case. Jerry Lumley, the lead attorney for the city schools, said Wednesday, March 17, that with the appeal by the NAACP, the city school system was free to seek payment from the NAACP for the costs of fighting the lawsuit.
--In a motion filed March 4, 2004, the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the NAACP, filed notice to the District Court that the NAACP and plaintiffs named in the suit "hearby appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit from the final judgment" of Judge Land. Following that, Lumley, on behalf of the Thomasville City Schools, filed a notice on March 10, 2004, to the same District Court that the city schools "appeals that part of the . . . judgment that 'each side shall bear its own costs. . . '" Lumley said Wednesday that meant the schools would ask the NAACP to pay for the cost of fighting the lawsuit. Some school officials have estimated that the school system has spent, apart from attorney fees, up to $300,000 on the case.
--The NAACP's lawyers now have about a month to file with the Court of Appeals the reasons that that they think Judge Land erred in his ruling. The city schools then have a month to file a response. Lumley said there had been "no exact time set for the filing of the briefs." He also said that the Court of Appeals had no deadline for making a decision on the appeal, but it would likely be six to eight months after the briefs were filed.

--The case was originally filed October 2, 1998. The trial phase of the civil lawsuit took place in July and August of 2003, in Thomasville's Federal Court. The Thomas County chapter of the NAACP charged the city schools with racial discrimination and other illegal racial disparities, stating in the original filing of the suit, "The school district failed to desegregate after the Brown versus Board of Education decision; Thomasville elementary schools remain segregated by school despite the district's 'Freedom Of Choice' plan; MacIntyre Park Middle School and Thomasville High School are segregated by class and instructional level; discipline is applied unequally to students in the Thomasville school district; and programs such as Special Education, Gifted Program and Extracurricular Activities are segregated." The city school system denied the charges.
--After the trial, Judge Land ruled that the city school system "does not presently engage in racial discrimination as prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act" and that the schools "does not presently discriminate on the basis of race in any aspect of its operations." The Judge also said each side had to bear the cost of the lawsuit, in effect barring either side from seeking recompense for the costs of the suit.
--After the ruling by Judge Land, the Thomasville School Board decided not to appeal the prohibition on seeking repayment of the cost of the lawsuit, with some board members saying in any appeal, the entire case could be opened again and a different decision could take place.

RULING MADE ON NAACP LAWSUIT AGAINST CITY SCHOOL SYSTEM
The Federal District Court Judge presiding over the the racial discrimination lawsuit brought by the Thomas County NAACP against the Thomasville City School System has ruled in favor of the school system. In a decision filed Thursday morning, February 5, 2004, US District Court Judge Clay D. Land ruled, "The Court finds that the [Thomasville City School] District does not presently engage in racial discrimination as prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act." Judge Land said the District "does not presently discriminate on the basis of race in any aspect of its operations . . . Accordingly, Plaintiffs [the NAACP] are not entitled to the relief they seek."

--City school officials and their attorney said they were pleased with the ruling that represented a complete win for the school system. The school's attorney, Jerry Lumley, said Thursday, “The Judge found for us on every issue, every accusation and every allegation made by the NAACP and the other plaintiffs. Most importantly, the Court found that the school system does not engage in racial discrimination.” The Chairman of the city school board, Darrell Allen, said Thursday, “After more than five years, we have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove we did nothing wrong. We feel vindicated by the Court’s ruling. ” The Superintendent of the school system, Sabrina Boykins Everett, said Thursday,  “Since the day we received notice of this lawsuit, our focus has been on providing a quality education for all students in the system. We are pleased that we will now be able to use all our resources – personnel and financial – for that purpose alone.”

 

--In his ruling, Judge Land said, "Based upon the evidence presented at the trial, the Court finds that the racial composition of the District's elementary schools is currently 'imbalanced' because of changes in the racial makeup of the City of Thomasville, shifting housing patterns, and changes in the enrollment of the District's schools caused by declining white enrollment as compared to black enrollment." The Court said, "the current racial imbalances of the District's elementary schools are not due to any intentional discrimination on the part of the District and are not vestiges of the District's previous de jure [based in law] racially segregated system."

--Land said, "The court finds that the current racial imbalances in individual classes are a result of the District's educational policy of 'ability grouping' or 'tracking.'" Land said the District grouped students based on their perceived ability starting in kindergarten and. "regrettably," a disproportionate number of low income students, "most of whom happen to be black," were placed in the lower ability groups. Land said he found those placements were not being made due to the race of the student. Judge Land said the grouping persisted during the student's progression through the system and "the inevitable result therefore is that they remain on the 'lower ability' track for the duration of their educational careers, absent parental intervention." Judge Land did note that he "makes no finding as to whether some placements may be affected by the subtle racism of low expectations, However, the Court does find that intentional racial discrimination is not the reason for placement decisions." Judge Land said in his ruling, "The District does not manipulate the ability tracking system in order to track students based upon their race."

--Judge Land said, "There are no significant differences between the education levels and experience of the faculties of the District's elementary schools . . . any racial imbalances that presently exist regarding the District's faculty are not traceable to the de jure segregated system or to current racial discrimination."

--Judge Land said, "To the extent that different curriculum is used depending on the ability level of the class, the Court finds that no racial discrimination exists." Judge Land said no student had been denied an opportunity to participate in the the school's gifted program because of race; that, "The District does not discriminate on the basis of race with respect to its gifted program." Judge Land said in the area of special education, that "race has not been a factor in any decision made by the District regarding placement of children in the Special Education Program."

--The ruling said, "The Court finds that the District does not treat black students differently from white students with respect to discipline," and "race has not been a factor in any decision made by the District with respect to discipline."

--As to the District's facilities, Judge Land said there was no racial imbalance favoring white students or funding for those facilities. The Judge said there was no discrimination against blacks with respect to transportation and there was no racial imbalance with regard to extracurricular activities.

 

TRIAL BEGINS IN SCHOOL LAWSUIT

The long-awaited trial of the civil lawsuit brought by the local NAACP against the Thomasville City School System began Monday, July 21, 2003. The Thomas County chapter of the NAACP is charging the city schools with racial discrimination and other illegal racial disparities. The city school board, which currently has three blacks seated as members out of seven seats, denies the charges.

 

--Laudric DeVoe, President of the Thomas County chapter of the NAACP, said in a written statement the week before the trial started that the organization filed the lawsuit because of several grievances against the school system because, “The school district failed to desegregate after the Brown versus Board of Education decision;  Thomasville elementary schools remain segregated by school despite the district's “Freedom Of Choice” plan; MacIntyre Park Middle School and Thomasville High School are segregated by class and instructional level; discipline is applied unequally to students in the Thomasville school district; and programs such as Special Education, Gifted Program and Extracurricular Activities are segregated.

 

LAWSUIT DETAILS

The federal lawsuit filed against the Thomasville City School System alleged racial discrimination. The suit, filed in US District Court Friday, October 2, 1998, was on behalf of the local NAACP and nine parents of city school students. In a statement released Wednesday, October 7, 1998, the President of the Thomas County Branch of the NAACP, Laudric Devoe, said the school system “through system-wide policies and practices…has deprived African-American students of equal educational opportunities.”

--The school system, through a written statement from Superintendent Jim Cable, also responded Wednesday, “It is regrettable that these perceptions exist. We have an excellent school system. Our school system does not discriminate against any students. We’ll do whatever it takes to work through this as we remain focused on the job of educating children.”

--The lawsuit charges discrimination exists in five specific areas in the system. One area is in classroom and school assignments. At the time the suit was filed, there were charges that Thomasville elementary schools were segregated by race, with white students attending only two of the system’s four elementary schools. (Since the suit was filed, the school system has closed one school that had a predominately black student population – Douglass Elementary – leaving Harper Elementary with a student population almost 100% black. Scott Elementary is roughly half white, while Jerger Elementary is predominately white.) In MacIntyre Park Middle School and Thomasville High School, the suit alleges African-American students generally are segregated by classroom, placed in classes devoid of serious academic content, and regularly denied opportunities to take courses that would qualify them for college admission. In the area of unequal allocation of resources, the suit charges that the district favors schools and classes with large white populations over those with large African-American populations, giving predominately African-American classes fewer books, fewer materials, more simplified instruction and less educated faculty. The suit also alleges disproportionate disciplinary sanctions against African-American students that come from the unfair imposition of discipline policies. The suit also alleges that African-American students are misdiagnosed as having impaired cognitive skills and are over represented in special education classes. Finally, the suit says that the school system actively discourages parents from having their children tested for the gifted programs and frequently makes racially biased gifted programs evaluations.

--When the suit was filed, Devoe said, “Racial discrimination exists at every level of the City of Thomasville school district. The lawsuit attempts to root out all aspects of the school district’s discriminatory policies and practices.” Devoe said there had not been any “meaningful” response from the school board to correct problems that had been brought to their attention by the NAACP and the Georgia Human Relations Commission. He said, “There has been changes in the administration but I’ve yet to see any demonstration or indication whatsoever in the way they are doing business.”

--Representing the local NAACP in the suit is The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a national civil rights organization, Dorsey and Whitney, L.L.P., a national law firm with a strong interest in civil rights and a law firm in Valdosta, Laverne Lewis Gaskins, P.C. According to the NAACP statement, the attorneys have agreed to represent the plaintiffs without charging fees or costs.

 

--Later in the year, the lawsuit was turned into a class action case. Federal District Court Judge Louis Sands ruled early in August, 2001, that the allegations of violations of civil rights by the school system are the kind that “can be fairly adjudicated as a class action.”

--A spokesperson for the attorneys of the school system said the judge's ruling was a "procedural decision." The case is in a discovery phase. Depositions of witnesses end in early January, 2002, and then expert witness depositions will be taken. Then comes a period of motions.

 

LOCAL NAACP FILED SUIT TO KEEP DOUGLAS ELEMENTARY OPEN

In 2002, the NAACP filed a motion in the on-going suit against the Thomasville City School System to prevent the closing of Douglass Elementary School, but Federal Judge Clay Land ruled the school could sell the property. In 2002 the school board voted to close the school and sell it to a private group of Douglass alumni.

 

--The Thomasville City School Board voted to sell the Douglass Elementary School building and grounds to the Douglass Alumni Association during a special called meeting April 15, 2002. Specifically, the board voted to authorize the system Superintendent, Dr. Jim Cable, to pursue closing the deal with the Association “as soon as feasible.” The chairman of the school board, Darrell Allen, said after the meeting the price for the facility “will be more in the line of a token price.” The board will retain ownership of the contents of the building, including the kitchen equipment.

--The school board had decided to close Douglass and merge its students and faculty with Harper Elementary School because declining enrollment at Douglass made the facility difficult to maintain. In addition to the alumni association, Thomas University and an educational fraternity had expressed some interest in the school. However, Allen said the alumni association had the edge, “They seemed to be the ones expressing the most interested, had wanted it from the start and never wavered. We really could not get a good feel from anyone else as far as what their intentions were. The board did not want to carry the property forward into another year and have another part of our budget dedicated to the property.”

--During two public hearings, one on Monday, April 16, 2002, and the other on Thursday, April 19, the Thomasville City School Board heard several citizens say they supported keeping Douglass Elementary School open. The board had called the hearings in compliance with state law after indicating it wanted to close Douglass because it had a student enrollment of less than 200 students and trends were the enrollment was not going to be growing. With several empty classrooms at Douglas and Harper Elementary, the school system is being kept from getting state funds for building new facilities.

 

--According to a lawyer associated with the plaintiffs in the case, Thomas J. Henderson, the motion by the NAACP was filed in federal court on Friday, April 19, 2002, asking that the school remain open to provide "an option for a remedy" to the issues arising out the lawsuit. Henderson said in an interview Tuesday, April 23, 2002, that the motion also says that the closing of Douglass is "essentially discriminatory against the entire African-American community." Henderson said, "The plan that the district has come up with to close the school and reassign students does not affect any white students at all. It essentially affects only black kids and it does so in a way that is taking the school off the table for the court to consider in any remedy." Officials with the Thomasville school system said in a statement from their lawyer representing them in the case that they considered the motion as "without merit."

--The motion was filed as part of a lawsuit filed four years ago by the local NAACP alleging racial discrimination by the city school system. Henderson is Chief Counsel for The Lawyer's Committee, a national legal right organization founded in 1963. According to Henderson, the Committee is located in Washington, D.C., but participates in cases all over the country by partnering with private law firms. In this particular case for the local NAACP, Henderson said they have been partnering from the start of the case with the lead firm of Dorsey and Whitney, who are headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and have offices in New York and Washington, D.C.

--In the interview, Henderson said with the case close to being ready to go to trial, the school board decided to close Douglass school to "make it unavailable to the court. If the court decides after trial that a remedy is called for, that school would no longer be available to the court for use as a remedy." He said the motion was intended to prevent the closing of the school and its disposal until after the trial.

--Henderson said, "Secondly, the motion points out that the action of the district is essentially discriminatory entirely against the African-American community. Douglass school was a black school under the dual system. It was built and operated as a black school under the explicitly operated black schools. It's the only remaining school that's in the black community. The plan the district has come up with would close that school and reassign all those students - ninety-nine percent of whom are black - to the only other all-black elementary school, Harper." He said the school "would essentially combine two all-black schools and the receiving school is not large enough to handle all the students. So there would be overcrowding and disruption and the district would have to bring in trailers."

--Henderson said the closing of Douglass would be a hardship to students because of transportation issues, "The district provides no transportation at all. We're thinking about kids in kindergarten . . . having to walk some distance across town to another school." Henderson was asked about proposals by the school system to provide limited busing for students on the west side of Thomasville to Harper. He said, "There isn't any bus service as far as we know. We've asked the district for documents about this but as far as we know there is no concrete plan that gives anybody any assurance of any transportation." Henderson said even if the school system provided transportation, "You're transporting one all black student body to another all black student school and overcrowding that school. It only affects black students, other than a handful of white students who are at Douglass and Harper now."

--The Thomasville City Board of Education met Tuesday, April 23, 2002, in a regular meeting but no one mentioned directly the legal action. The school board did go into a closed executive session for about 20 minutes to discuss what they said were personnel issues and consultations with legal counsel on pending litigation, but only took action on the personnel issues after the executive session by hiring several new teachers. Present at the Tuesday meeting and with the board during the closed session was Jerry Lumley, an attorney from Macon who is representing the board in its dispute with the NAACP. Also at the meeting were several representatives of the NAACP and plaintiffs in the lawsuit and Doris Booker, a representative of the Douglass Alumni Association, but they were not present during the closed meeting. The only comments from the group a the meeting were from Shirley Jackson who reminded the board that she had requested that the board hire a curriculum director for the system and was asking again that one be hired, "To make sure that all the kids in the school are on the same page."

--None of the school board members or the superintendent, Dr. Jim Cable, would comment on the motion filed against the board after the Tuesday meeting. Instead, reporters were directed to Lumley for comment. Lumley said, "The plaintiff's motion is not correct. We will defend this very vigorously. There is no merit to the motion and we will show the charges are not substantiated." Lumley said there were several charges made in the motion that were wrong, such as no transportation planned for students, "The board has a plan to bus students who might have a considerable distance to walk." Lumley also said, contrary to the charges made in the motion, "The school board has no definite plans to place portable buildings at the Harper school site, but it has ordered the buildings only as a precaution." Lumley said, "We look forward to defending ourselves and proving the charges wrong."

--After the meeting, Doris Booker, representing the Douglass Alumni Association who has been tapped by the school board to get the building and grounds of Douglass Elementary after July 1 after a token payment, said she did not feel that the motion by the NAACP would affect the sale.

--On May 2, 2002, Judge Land ruled the school system could sell the school.

  

SEPARATE LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST CITY SCHOOLS, BUT EVENTUALLY DISMISSED

An earlier court case was filed the last working day of 1996 in federal district court charging racial discrimination by the Thomasville City School System involving the staffing and operation of the city’s middle school. The suit was eventually dismissed.

--The case was brought by a mostly black citizen group, MacIntyre Park Parents/Concerned Citizens Association, against the Thomasville City School System. The suit was filed, according to the plaintiffs, to redress what they said were discriminatory practices at the MacIntyre Park Middle School in Thomasville. The plaintiffs also wanted a temporary restraining order keeping the school system from moving Sherrell Newton from her position as principal of MPMS.

--Newton had been moved by then Superintendent Dr. Lee Shiver from the principal’s position to a position as head of the systems alternative school program, a program that had not been fully established. The reason for moving Newton from the principal’s job was, according to Dr. Shiver, as a result of “a series of disputes” with him. The plaintiffs said Newton's re-instatement as middle school principal was needed to erase the harm her transfer made on the self-esteem of black students and stop discriminatory practices at MPMS. The school system's attorneys argued before Judge Sands that plaintiff's attorneys were asking the federal court to be a super-school board over the city school board. They said the plaintiffs were looking for a labor case, had no standing in federal court, there was no showing of injury and that the relief of any alleged discrimination at MPMS could not come from the re-instatement of one person.

--The plaintiff’s attorneys argued in hearings before Judge Sands in January 1997 that Superintendent Shiver was not working as hard as he said he could to address discrimination. Also Newton’s re-instatement was needed to erase the harm her transfer made on the self-esteem of black students and stop discriminatory practices at MPMS. The school system’s attorneys said the plaintiff’s attorneys were asking the federal court to be a super-school board over the city school board. They said the plaintiffs were looking for a labor case, had no standing in federal court, there was no showing of injury and that the relief of any alleged discrimination at MPMS could not come from the re-instatement of one person.

--On March 30, 1998, Judge Sands dismissed the part of the lawsuit asking him to reinstate Newton as principal at the city middle school. Judge Sands said the issue was moot because Newton had already taken another job. In 1997, Newton returned to her previous employer at Valdosta City School System. In turning down the motion, Judge Sands said, “When effective relief cannot be granted because of later events, the controversy must be dismissed as moot.” The decision also said that Newton did not bring the lawsuit to the court on her own behalf and that the association who did bring the suit had standing that was “questionable.” Judge Sands said to have a court bring relief, a plaintiff had to allege personal injury from the defendants alleged unlawful conduct and that Newton did not prove that was the case. However, Judge Sands, in dismissing the motion on the reinstatement of Newton, did not dismiss the entire suit against the city school alleging racial discrimination by the city schools in the operation of the school.

--Later in 1998, Judge Lewis Sands dismissed the rest of the lawsuit brought by the MacIntyre Park Parents/Concerned Citizens Association charging racial discrimination at the middle school. Judge Sands said he dismissed the suit because the Association had no standing.

 

WHILE THE LEGAL DISPUTES MOVED THROUGH THE COURTS, THE CITY SCHOOL BOARD HAD SUBSTANTIAL CHANGES IN ITS MEMBERSHIP AND A CHANGE IN SUPERINTENDENTS

Two incumbents on the Thomasville City School Board were defeated in city elections in November 1997. Board Chairman Nathaniel Abrams lost a three-way race for a seat in District 1 to challenger Ananias Hopkins III. Board member Ken Cone came in last in a five person race where the first and second place won the seats available on the board from District 2. Board member Debbie Loftiss did not run for re-election. Winning those two District 2 seats were Darrell Allen and Rick Ivey.

 

--The Superintendent of the Thomasville City Schools, Dr. Lee Shiver, resigned his position effective June 30, 1998. He did it at a called meeting of the city school board Wednesday, June 10, 1998. Dr. Shiver had been appointed as superintendent in the summer of 1994. After Dr. Shiver’s resignation became effective, the board appointed Dr. Jim Cable, the then assistant superintendent, as the new superintendent.

--The then Chairman of the School board, George Lilly, said Dr. Shiver had a contract with the school system through June 1999 and the system had intentions to honor that contract in full under a separation agreement. Lilly said those funds were included in the fiscal year 1999 budget and would not be a financial hardship on the system. Sources indicated that agreement called for the system to pay around $100,000 to Dr. Shiver for the separation agreement. The vote of the school board to accept the separation agreement was unanimous.

--In a written statement, Chairman Lilly said the board “felt that, given the current environment, it was in the best interests of the Thomasville City Schools to make a change in leadership.” The statement said the board was “very fortunate to have someone of Dr. Cable’s education, experience and integrity who also brings to the table a knowledge of the system and the community gained over 17 years with the Thomasville City Schools.”

--In a written statement, Dr. Shiver said he was resigning as superintendent “because it has become obvious to me that my usefulness to the board has run its course.” Shiver said there had been twelve different board members in less than four years and “this board has different priorities and ideas about how they want the school system to be run.” Dr. Shiver said his immediate plans “are to spend some quality time with my family. I have a fairly diverse background in education administration, so I’m really interested in a number of opportunities that are out there right now, including higher education. I haven’t committed to another position yet and I’m keeping my options open for the time being. Thomasville High School is one of the state’s great high schools and my wife and I would very much like to see our oldest daughter, Brittany, graduate with her Bulldog classmates in 2000.” Dr. Shiver presented a list of accomplishments of the city schools over the last four years and said “it is a characteristic of a quality school system that, despite different philosophies and opinions, puts the best interests of students first. It’s been a hallmark of the Thomasville City School System for almost 100 years and I have every reason to believe it will continue well into the next millennium.”

--Public controversy broke out over Superintendent Shiver when a group of citizens and parents filed a federal lawsuit the last day of 1996 alleging discriminatory practices at the school system. The suit also asked that a middle school principal moved out of the school by Dr. Shiver be reinstated. The motion to reinstate the principal was later declared moot by the judge when the principal got another job in education outside of Thomas County. On April 7, 1997, more than a thousand black students boycotted classes in the city school system. There was no public announcement why the boycott happened but several individual parents of those students said the action was taken to demonstrate that black concerns were not being listened to. Dr. Shiver and school officials repeatedly said they did not understand what the protest was about. The Georgia Human Relations Commission was called by the school system to come to Thomasville to assist in easing tensions in the community. The GHRC is a state agency that assists communities to resolve conflicts among its citizens. Several public forums were held by the GHRC to gather information and June 6, 1997, a preliminary report given to the school board saying that tensions among factions in the community generally came from a lack of communication between board members, between members of the board and the school administration, and among the board, administration and the public. On June 31 the school board voted to extend Dr. Shiver’s contract as superintendent until the end of June 1999. On election day November 1997, three of the seven board members were replaced. One board member had resigned, two board members were defeated for reelection.

 

DR. SHIVER RESIGNS AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE PICKENS COUNTY SCHOOL SYSTEM TO TAKE A JOB AT THE GEORGIA SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF

--Dr. Lee Shiver, a former Superintendent of the Thomasville City School System, has been appointed the new director of the Georgia School for the Deaf in Rome. The appointment by the State Board of Education on the recommendation of State School Superintendent Kathy Cox. The appointment has been criticized by members of the deaf community who say Dr. Shiver comes despite a lack of experience working with the deaf and no knowledge of sign language. Dr. Shiver has resigned as Superintendent of Pickens County schools in North Georgia in the Fall of 2005. Dr. Shiver had been Superintendent of the Thomasville City School System from the summer of 1994 until he resigned in June, 1998.
--Shiver's appointment was voted on by the state board on February 7, 2006, and is due to be effective March 1. He will replace an interim director at the School for the Deaf, Cynthia Ashby. The former director of the school, Winfield McChord, resigned in July, 2005, after serving for 19 months. A spokesperson for the State Department of Education, Dana Tofig, has cited Dr. Shiver's education background for his selection, "The superintendent and the board were very impressed with Dr. Shiver's commitment to education in Georgia, and believe he would do a wonderful job at the Georgia School for the Deaf."
--Deaf community members and their advocates say they are concerned about the lack of input from the public in the hiring process. But the Rome News-Tribune reported last week that State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said in e-mail responses to the newspapers inquiries that public input was "not under consideration" although education officials "always want to hear constructive suggestions and input from the community about all issues." The newspaper also reported that Cox said she and her staff were "very confident" that Shiver has "the experience and the attitude to lead the Georgia School for the Deaf and make it one of the best deaf-education schools in America."
--The Rome newspaper also reported that Dr. Shiver said he was learning American Sign Language and challenge shows his attitude, "I think once the students see that and understand that, and parents see that, they will feel very positive."
--In their February 9, 2006, editions with the first news of his appointment, the Rome newspaper quoted Dr. Shiver as saying, "It's very exciting. I've been a superintendent for 10 years, and prior to that, I was an elementary and high school principal. As fulfilling as being a superintendent is, I missed the contact with the students. There is a lot of potential there for me personally and professionally." The newspaper also reported Shiver as saying, "My administrative career has largely been focused on coming in from the outside to a challenging situation and offering fresh ideas and fresh perspectives. I have a collaborative leadership style." He said his experiences in education and at home have prepared him for the position. The newspaper reported that Shiver said those experiences taught about barriers that students with labels can deal with, "My background personally and professionally really lends itself to the leadership that the state is looking for." As a superintendent and a principal he said he has worked with students with learning disabilities including hearing disabilities. He has a 21-year-old daughter with Down's Syndrome.
--Earlier in the year, August 11, the Pickens County Board of Education met and discussed Shiver's work as superintendent and his future with the school system. The Pickens County Board of Education met Wednesday, September 21, 2005, for an emergency called board meeting. After a closed session to discuss personnel, the school board voted to accept a mutual release agreement with Dr. Shiver from his obligations as superintendent. Mike Ballew was appointed interim superintendent of the Pickens County School system.
--In a statement released after the September meeting, the board said, "The Board would like to thank Dr. Lee Shiver for the work and leadership he has provided to the Pickens County School system since 1999. His efforts can be seen both in our classrooms and campuses." The statement said, "This Board and Dr. Shiver have come to a mutual contract release agreement, because of philosophical differences in our school system." 

 

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