A federal judge ruled in favor of a predominantly white Alabama town seceding from a multiracial school district to start its own district, raising concerns about a possible push for segregation.
Judge Madeline Haikala of the U.S. District Court in Birmingham ruled that Gardendale may take steps toward secession, according to a report by The Washington Post. “Race was a motivating factor in Gardendale’s decision to separate from the Jefferson County public school system,” the judge wrote.
Haikala ruled in favor of separation because she fears students from mostly black North Smithfield who get bused to Gardendale schools would get “the blame” if she didn’t.
“Students from North Smithfield may feel unwelcome in Gardendale schools,” she wrote.
She was also sympathetic to parents who wanted local control.
In 2014, city officials appointed the Gardendale Board of Education to further an effort to secede from the surrounding Jefferson County — where there are more African American students and then white ones – to form an independent school system. While opponents of the ruling fear its racial undertone will lead to a push for segregation, supporters argue that it’s about tax money.
“It’s keeping our tax dollars here with our kids, rather than sharing them with kids all over Jefferson County,” said Stan Hogeland, mayor of Gardendale. “My focus is on Gardendale, not the county as a whole.”
A suburb of Birmingham with a population of 14,000, Gardendale is 88 percent white. It is located in Jefferson County, which had a population of 658,000 that is roughly 53 percent white and 42 percent black.
Among other things, Haikala has ordered that an African-American be appointed to the all-white school board within 60 days.
“History teaches that communities, left to their own devices, re-segregate fairly quickly,” Haikala wrote in her 190-page ruling.
Chris Segroves, president of the Gardendale Board of Education, said the goal is local control, not segregation.