For the mostly white Alabama town of Gardendale, secession is back in vogue.
This past spring, the town successfully lobbied a federal judge to leave the racially mixed school district it was in so it could create its own school system. Now, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is appealing that ruling on the grounds that it would lead to a racially segregated school district.
Chris Kemmitt, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s senior counsel, told NBC News on Thursday that, in appealing the judge’s decision, “we are simply asking the Circuit Court to follow that finding to its logical conclusion and prohibit Gardendale from creating a separate, segregated school district at the expense of the broader community.”
Here’s the strange part: Federal judge Madeline Haikala, in her original decision, agreed that race was a motivating factor in Glendale’s choice to break away from Jefferson County School district.
“The record demonstrates that some Gardendale citizens are concerned because the racial demographics in Gardendale are shifting, and they worry that Gardendale, like its neighbor Center Point, may become a predominantly black city,” wrote Haikala on April 24. “These citizens prefer a predominantly white city.”
Haikala also noted that Gardendale residents wanted a separate school system because it could “reduce white flight.”
Yet the judge still ruled in favor of the Gardendale Board of Education out of a supposed concern for the well-being of black students (she wrote that students bused into Gardendale schools may feel “unwelcome”), and to be fair to the Gardendale parents who want a separate school, but not for racist reasons. So, to summarize, even though some people were definitely racist in this whole process, the fact that there were a few who weren’t means it’s fine. Makes sense!
Still, Haikala mandated that the Gardendale must add a black member to its school board within 60 days of her decision, and prove it can operate a desegregated school system...even though she also let a bunch of people she herself declared to be motivated by race help run it.
As NBC News reported on Thursday, Gardendale—a suburb of Birmingham with a population of just 14,000—is 88% white, while Jefferson County, the jurisdiction it’s trying to leave, is 53% white and 42% black.
The decision to break away from Jefferson County would directly impact two elementary schools, including Snow Rogers Elementary, which is one hell of a name for an elementary school under a strict desegregation watch.
NBC News also referenced the Gardendale Board of Education’s website, which explains the push to secede by claiming that “local control over the city’s schools will give the community a sense of pride and ownership.”
The school board also asserts that“research has demonstrated that schools benefit from being in a community that is directly invested in their success. From an economic standpoint, forming a city school system in Gardendale should allow us to flourish.”
It’s true that a community needs to be “directly invested” in their schools to see its students succeed, but the board doesn’t quite answer why a more racially mixed school would hamper their investment.
Beyond that, this line of thinking flies against a strong body of research which shows that socioeconomic integration benefits students of all races and backgrounds, including preparing students to function in an increasingly diverse and globalized workforce.
It’s too soon to know what a higher court will say about all this. But if Gardendale residents don’t get their way, they can always take refuge in that great new HBO show that’s coming soon.