Federal Judge Samuel "Hardy" Mays, Jr., has ruled against six Shelby County suburbs in the municipal schools fight, saying they cannot start public school systems, ruling that any actions taken under a state law that cleared the way for the new districts are void.
"The municipalities are enjoined from proceeding under Chapter 905 to establish municipal school districts," Judge Mays said in his 65-page ruling.
Judge Mays ruled that legislation passed last spring (Chapter 905) applies only to Shelby County and is therefore unconstitutional in nature.
"Although general in form, Public Chapter 905 is local in effect," Judge Mays said in his ruling. "Because it does not include a provision for local approval, Chapter 905 is VOID under Article 11, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. All actions taken under the authority of Chapter 905 are VOID. The Municipalities are enjoined from proceeding under Chapter 905 to establish school districts."
Voters on Aug. 2 approved referendums to form school districts in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington. The suburbs want to break away from the Shelby County school district and avoid the planned merger between the larger, struggling, majority-black Memphis school system and the smaller, more successful, majority-white county system.
Tuesday evening's ruling, which was published shortly before 8 p.m. CST, is a blow to the suburbs, but it does not appear this is the end of the line for municipal schools.
Judge Mays said that all actions taken under Chapter 905 are void.
Chapter 905 is the bill rushed through the state legislature earlier this year and it allowed for the suburbs to plan in advance of the 2013 merger of Shelby County and Memphis City Schools.
After that law passed, the suburbs went forward and held referendum on the creation of municipal schools and elected school boards.
Those actions will all be thrown out.
Judge Mays said Chapter 905 was unconstitutional because it was tailored just to Shelby County and that State law says laws cannot apply to just one county.
If suburban schools are allowed to move forward those process will have to be started over after the merger is official in August 2013.
The moving forward is now a question.
Judge Mays will still decide if the lifting of the ban on municipal schools after the merger is permissible. He will still hear the arguments on whether municipal schools would create re-segregation in county schooling.
That trial was scheduled for January, but now will be delayed.
Judge Mays will allow arguments on the constitutionality of lifting the ban on municipal schools that is allowed after August 2013, according to the Norris-Todd Law.
County Commissioner Steve Mulroy and other members of the county commission are claiming victory after Tuesday's federal ruling, but acknowledge there's some more legal wrangling ahead over the next few weeks.
"We are vindicated," Commissioner Mulroy said. "The commission definitely won. In this round of federal litigation the judge agreed with us that the law that was passed in 2012 to accelerate the formation of municipal school districts is unconstitutional in the Tennessee Constitution. The purpose and effect it was designed to apply to only to Shelby County and treat Shelby County differently from any county in the state. That's just not kosher, that's not constitutional in the state constitution."
Commissioner Mulroy, a constitutional law professor, said we should expect both sides to be filing briefs over the next few weeks in regards to the other state laws mentioned.
But Commissioner Mulroy said this is a victory for those supporting Shelby County Schools.
From the start, Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald has joined the chorus of the other mayors of wanting to stay as far away from this Unified School System as possible.
"I'm disappointed, obviously. No one would expect anything different that I would be disappointed," Mayor McDonald said. "But, I said for two years this is a long, long process. We have the opportunity now to consider where there is initial arguments, there's an appeal, whether we get legislative relief out of Nashville, whether we do something with the charter schools temporarily, whether we do something unique like the virtual schools or something. There's lots and lots of things happening in education and we are all looking at those options - and we have been."
"We expected to hit some bumps on the road, and we hit one."
Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman said he another other suburban mayors see this ruling as a speed bump.
"We felt confident in this case, and we still do," Mayor Wissman said. "There a couple of things we do know, whether the election was thrown out and school boards will not take office Dec. 1. That will not happen but we do know overwhelmingly what the citizens of all the suburbs did vote for, whether it was thrown out or not, and know what they want."
"I think our resolve is still forward, there still is some questions with Chapter One, the Norris-Todd Law, so until we go through with this overnight, and sit down tomorrow and see what route we go, I think the resolve is still going to be there, and the community's approach in the state of education. If that means a delay in the case, then so be it."
FOX13 News reporters Lauren Lee, Matt Gerien and Greg Coy and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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