Mostly White City in Alabama Wants to Leave its Mostly Black School District


DeVonte Kirkland is in his second to last year of school at Center Point High in Jefferson County, just outside of Birmingham, Ala. When he graduates next year he wants to head to Alabama State University.

DeVonte also wants a car, so he’s taking some serious time to learn how to work on them. Every day, he rides a school bus 25 minutes, each direction, for an auto tech class at Gardendale High, another school on the south side of the district.

Unlike the Jefferson County schools on whole, the student body inside Gardendale’s schools is mostly white. At Gardendale, DeVonte says, he’s making friends, many of whom don’t look like him. “Sometimes we see each other out of school, and we talk in school too. I’m learning something new from them every day,” he says.

Next year, though, Gardendale’s programs might not be an option for DeVonte and hundreds of other students from around Jefferson County.

Several years ago, voters in the city of Gardendale raised property taxes on themselves to try to start their own school district. The mayor of the city, Stan Hogeland, says the proposal to leave the county school system doesn’t have anything to do with race, but calls it a move to do what’s best for the kids in the city. “If we had our school system, with a local superintendent, and a local board that lives in town that you see when you go shopping or at church,” there would be more accountability, he says.

The final decision, though, is up to a federal judge who could decide, any day now, whether Gardendale is violating civil rights if it pulls out of the Jefferson County school district.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate is not equal, some 60 years ago, federal courts have kept an eye on specific school districts across the country that showed a tendency toward segregation. One of those districts is Jefferson County.

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