Shelby County commissioners postpone vote to drop civil rights lawsuit

The Shelby County commission decided yesterday to postpone a vote on whether or not to drop a civil rights lawsuit against several Memphis suburbs, which are slated to break away from the merged school system and begin operating their own school district in 2014. Memphis city council members are also considering dropping the suit.

A merger between the legacy Memphis City Schools and neighboring Shelby County schools – the largest school merger in the nation’s history – became official on July 1. But six suburban towns that had been part of the Shelby County district have been working for several years to pull out of the large merged system and create their own separate school districts.

Shelby County commission and Memphis’s city council filed a lawsuit alleging that the suburbs’ plan is an attempt to re-segregate schools. Suburban leaders say the new district is motivated by a preference for smaller school systems and local control, not race. A state law passed last spring permitted the creation of the new districts, but the question of whether the new districts violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment has not yet been resolved.

Shelby County commissioners decided yesterday to postpone the vote on withdrawing the suit until after they had heard the results of negotiations about which schools would become part of each district. The merged Shelby County school district is nearing the end of negotiations with suburban school district leaders in Lakeland, Arlington, and several other municipalities, the Commercial Appeal reported. The commission is expected to approve the results of those negotiations.

The building issue isn’t resolved in every municipality, however: Debate about which buildings would be part of a new school district in Germantown is still raging. 

If the county commission drops the lawsuit, it will be removed from negotiations altogether, according to WREG. Last month, the commission also considered dropping the suit and then postponed the vote.

Memphis city council members are also discussing dropping the litigation. Council members say it is a waste of city taxpayers’ money.

Shelby County’s commission is now slated to vote on whether to drop the lawsuit in December.