Feds seek to merge Cleveland schools

CLEVELAND – A federal judge must decide whether this Mississippi Delta college town’s school system is an oasis of integration or a glaring example of continued segregation.

The court hearing opening today before U.S. District Judge Debra Brown in Greenville is something of a dinosaur. Court desegregation orders were common in the 1970s and 1980s, but have become much more unusual.

On the surface, what’s at issue is balancing the white and black population at different schools. But the case is also about whether racism has eased, and whether whites will flee Cleveland if ordered to shift schools as they did in dozens of other Mississippi districts following court-ordered integration. Many of those all-black school districts are in towns with moribund economies and free-falling populations, and white city leaders fear the same fate for Cleveland. The district instead is pushing integration by choice, relying on magnet school programs.