Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Yet another lawsuit that the Omaha Public School District is threatening (or blackmailing?); could they spend any of that money going to lawyers on education? Journal Star.com The Omaha Public School District is threatening the Legislature with a discrimination suit this time if it does not get what it wants from the Unicameral, this time the forced merger of suburban school districts with the Omaha Public Schools. Dont know how a discrimination suit is going to work, first since the US Supreme Court held that the government could not order district wide desegregation when it had not proven intentional systemwide discrimination. SCHOOL DISTRICT OF OMAHA v. UNITED STATES, 433 U.S. 667 (1977) 433 U.S. 667. The Douglas County Attorney had already rejected OPS contention that State law required "one city-one school district" for Metropolitan Class Cities and their school districts. Plus at least for Ralston and Millard Schools how could OPS attribute their existence to purposeful discrimination when they were once independent communities while Omaha suburbs did not go out that far? The Omaha Public School District said if the Legislature doesn't support its bid to take over several area schools, the district would consider filing a discrimination suit against the state. District Superintendent John Mackiel said he is hoping the Legislature will act on the issue according to the district's plan in the coming session. But if lawmakers decide not to approve OPS' plan to move into the suburbs, that would constitute government-imposed segregation, OPS says. If that happens, the district should find out why it was treated differently, Mackiel said. "If we don't come together in one unified school district in the city of Omaha, that will stick out like a sore thumb from a civil rights perspective," said David Pedersen, attorney for OPS. The suit may happen and the district thinks it could win, Mackiel said in response to a question in a recent Omaha teachers union newsletter. "It may yet happen and it will come from this direction: Do we believe we could use the judicial system? Yes. Do we believe we would prevail? Yes," Mackiel wrote. "But, the Legislature has the authority to manage this and it is better for the OPS board to take this position prior to the legislative session." The Board of Education would have to decide whether to file a discrimination lawsuit, Mackiel said, though he and Pedersen said other groups might consider filing suits too. In June, OPS announced its "one city, one school district" plan, under which it would take over 21 Millard schools and four Ralston schools. The district says the plan is mandated by state law. Westside Community Schools, Elkhorn and Bennington Schools have joined with Millard and Ralston in protest. The approved plan would mean Millard could lose half of its district. It said in a statement that OPS' claim about government-imposed segregation is based on a false premise because "one city, one school district" is not the law in Omaha. The district said other large cities throughout the country have multiple school districts. "The Nebraska Legislature should adopt the model it believes would best serve the educational interests of Nebraska's children," the statement said, "and not be swayed by personal attacks and labels of racism by OPS and its superintendent." The Legislature could craft a solution that differs from OPS' plan and is not discriminatory, said State Sen. Ron Raikes of Lincoln, chairman of the Education Committee. Raikes said he doubted that the OPS plan accomplishes Omaha's goals, because the district would keep the same number of high-needs students and the total number of school districts wouldn't change. Raikes said he does not see district boundaries changing for the time being, but the suburban districts need to accept substantial changes. "It seems to me that there is not one solution," Raikes said. OPS would be open to considering other proposals, such as having a countywide or Douglas-Sarpy County district, Pedersen said. But the suburban districts' proposal for stable boundaries and interdistrict student transfers is unacceptable, he said. OPS, with the state's highest proportion of minority and poor students, is concerned that it could be prevented from expanding as other districts do, Pedersen said. The district is also concerned about the state's option enrollment law, which allows students to choose to attend other districts. Mackiel said the law promotes segregation by giving white students a way to leave the district. Discrimination cases are harder to prove now than they were a quarter-century ago, said Michael Fenner, a constitutional law professor at Creighton University. If government-sponsored segregation exists, it is much more subtle, he said. "The whole issue is a bit more nuanced these days," Fenner said. "The results aren't so clear."

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