Local Control over Schools at Stake: 50 Year-Old Case Looms in 11th Circuit

ATLANTA, GA: Southeastern Legal Foundation and Center for Equal Opportunity filed an amicus brief with the Eleventh Circuit supporting a group of Gardendale City, Alabama residents who want to form a new municipal school system but are burdened by a 40-year old desegregation decree, and a federal court who insists on controlling the local schools.

This case, Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education, originated over 50 years ago when Linda Stout sued the Jefferson County school board for racially segregating the school system. Such de jure segregation is unconstitutional and as such, the court entered an order directing the school system to desegregate. By 1976, the County’s dual system was fully dismantled.

Fast forward to 2012. Residents of Gardendale City began a campaign to raise property taxes to form their own school system, hoping to increase local control over education, improve test scores, and decrease overall size of the system their children attended. They succeeded in raising sufficient funds and in 2014, formed the Gardendale City Board of Education. However, because the federal district court still controls the local school board, the new school board had to seek its permission to actually operate. The court ultimately allowed the two elementary schools, but not the middle and high schools. Both sides appealed.

SLF and CEO filed their amicus brief to bring one particular issue to the Court’s attention – the inherent violation of federalism that results from continued federal court control over local school boards. The U.S. Supreme Court has, time and time again, indicated that the time for federal court control over an area which is constitutionally reserved to the States has come. Unless there is a constitutional violation that needs to be remedied, federal courts should return control of our children’s education to the local and state governments.

Click here for SLF's 11th Circuit amicus brief

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