Shelby County municipal districts lawsuit and civil rights claim dismissed

A long-running lawsuit against the formation of new school districts in the suburbs of Memphis was dismissed yesterday by federal judge Samuel H. Mays.

The merger of suburban Shelby County Schools with Memphis City Schools and subsequent plans to form new, smaller school systems in six towns carved out of legacy Shelby County spurred a series of legal challenges, first against Memphis City’s plan to surrender its charter, and then involving the suburban towns’ efforts to secede from the merged district.

The judge’s order dismisses the charge that the creation of the new municipal systems was motivated by race. Legacy Memphis City Schools was predominantly black, while legacy Shelby County Schools and the new municipal school systems were predominantly white. Suburban leaders argue that the new school systems are being created to maintain local control over their schools.

The order says that the court will continue to oversee the case in order to enforce the terms of the settlement.

Shelby County Schools began reaching settlement with each of the suburban towns this November. Since they were approved, the school systems have been operating as though school would begin in the fall regardless of the lawsuit. Districts have begun recruiting parents and students, many of whom will need to attend new schools due to the new districts.

But the lawsuit has been a shadow over some decisions: For instance, the Germantown school system initially decided to charge $200 in tuition to residents outside its boundaries, but decided to rescind that decision for fear it would influence the outcome of the lawsuit.

For this school year only, the merged Shelby County School system has 140,000 students and is the 14th largest in the country. 

The Commercial Appeal has the full text of Mays’ order here.