BERKELEY, MO – The first federal court hearing today in a controversial civil rights case aimed at stopping the Ferguson-Florissant School District from restructuring its schools.
An attorney describes the plan racist against Berkeley families.
But district officials say the plan which has already passed the school board is the best for the district`s future.
“I do categorize it as unjust. I characterize it as uncaring,” say attorney Eric Banks about the Ferguson-Florissant School District`s school restructuring plan.
Banks represents the City of Berkeley and five families suing the district claiming the plan violates the civil rights of Berkeley families with children attending the impacted Berkeley schools.
Banks wants the plan stopped.
He made his case for a temporary restraining order before federal Judge Ronnie White.
The order claiming, “The plan was approved to intentionally deprive African American citizens in Berkeley, Missouri of their Constitutional rights...”
“I do believe it was along racial lines. If you want to categorize that as a racist act well they`re guilty as charged,” said Banks.
The plan passed the Ferguson-Florissant school board last October four to three.
In addition to closing Airport Elementary School, the plan also makes changes to Holman Elementary and what is now Berkeley Middle School.
Holman, which now serves kindergarten through fifth graders, will switch to pre-k through second grade.
Berkeley Middle where sixth through eighth graders currently attend will house third through fifth graders and will be renamed Berkeley Elementary School.
McCluer South-Berkeley High School will also become a specialty high school.
“It`s a very big deal for the students in the school who will have their lives disrupted, will have to travel further, will have to meet new teachers, get acclimated to new people,” explained Banks.
Banks told Judge White that Berkeley students will suffer immediate and irreparable harm under the plan.
But White wasn`t so sure...pointing out that it`s taken Banks months to even file for a temporary restraining order.
The Judge also said the school district had the right to pass the plan and the concerns raised by Banks may be policy disputes and not legal questions.
School district officials want the case dismissed.
A court filing calls the allegations leveled by Banks false and says, “The public interest is best served by allowing the district to proceed with implementing the plan...”
“By making these adjustments we`re able to use our resources better,” says school district spokesperson Kevin Hampton.
He concedes there will changes for Berkeley students.
But the goal is to provide the best opportunities for everyone.
“This is an effort to maximize our resources and to direct those resources to the classroom to provide a high-quality education for all of our students,” said Hampton.
There is no exact timeline for when Judge White may rule on the temporary restraining order or other filings in the case.
But both sides seem to be hoping for decisions sooner rather than later.
School district officials also point out the McCluer South-Berkeley High School isn`t in Berkeley although some Berkeley students attend the school.
Instead, it`s in Ferguson.