The Shelby County Commission has filed a lawsuit against numerous parties with the goal of halting the suburbs from creating their own school districts.
Six suburban municipalities (Germantown, Collierville, Millington, Bartlett, Lakeland, Arlington) are set to vote on creating their own school districts on August 2. This lawsuit aims to stop that.
The document cites several federal and state laws as the basis for the suit, including the US Constitution.
The municipalities were aiming to create their own school districts, separate from the Unified School District that goes into effect at the start of the school year in 2013.
Part of the lawsuit alleges if the suburbs secede, it would essentially resegregate Shelby County and violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
The lawsuit reads, "If each of the Municipalities is allowed to create its own school district, the effect will be to create 7 school districts in Shelby County which are almost completely racially homogenous. As a result the new Shelby County School District, which will including Memphis and unincorporated Shelby County, will be at least 90% African American."
One count named in the lawsuit says Shelby County is the only county in the state of Tennessee to which Chapter 905 (the law allowing the formation of municipal schools in Shelby County) is applicable. In Tennessee, state laws cannot be written for just one area without approval of the local bodies, which was not the case.
Another part of the lawsuit deals with the so-called "Norris-Todd Bill" passed by the state legislature in February of 2011. That law allowed the formation of the Transition Planning Commission and delayed the merger until August 2013.
Questions immediately rose about the constitutionality of the bill, claiming that it applied to only Shelby County. The law was eventually declared constitutional because it also applied to Carroll and Gibson County. But, the suit brings the constitutionality back into question, saying the municipal schools cannot be formed in those counties due to other state laws.
It goes on to say the legislative history of Chapter 905 makes it clear that Chapter 905 was only intended to be applicable to Shelby County.
This part of the suit is referring to the last legislative session in Nashville. Senator Mark Norris from Collierville tried to lift the ban on municipal schools state wide, trying to avoid this very issue of constitutionality.
But, lawmakers in other parts of the state would not go along, and the law was re-written to once again, apply only to Shelby County.
The most immediate worry for municipal school supporters right now is an injunction on the August vote on whether or not to create separate schools, which could delay the start date in the suburbs.
The suit was filed by the Shelby County Commission. The Commission is the funding body for all public schools in Shelby County. It's on those lines that the suit was filed.
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