Alabama school district settles suit from civil rights era

WASHINGTON Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:44pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A school district in Alabama has agreed to hire more non-whites to settle a nearly 50-year-old lawsuit stemming from the segregation of blacks and whites, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

The Fort Payne City school district in Fort Payne, a predominately white city in the northeastern part the state, reached a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice requiring it to hire a more diverse workforce of teachers, administrators and general staff.

The agreement, filed in a federal district court in Birmingham, is part of a statewide lawsuit, Lee v. Macon County Board of Education, filed in 1963 amid the civil rights protests over segregation of blacks and whites.

The lawsuit is one of hundreds of open desegregation cases in school districts across the country, Justice Department officials said.

The Fort Payne school district was ordered decades ago to enact a desegregation plan but was put on an inactive list in 1974 after it was found to be in compliance with the law.

In 2006 the Justice Department looked again at its progress and found the district falling short in hiring non-white faculty and staff.

The school employed no black administrators and four black teachers out of 199 for approximately 3,100 students, of which 116 are black, according to the district's enrollment and staff information for 2011-12.

A school district spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

As part of the agreement, the district will recruit at historically black colleges and universities such as Alabama A&M University and track the race of all applicants, among other measures, the order said.

The school system will also revise its student transfer policy. The majority of students now transferring to and from nearby districts are white, according to the order.

The district has two years to come into compliance with the agreement, officials said.

(Reporting By Lily Kuo; Editing by Greg McCune and Xavier Briand)

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