- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A Mississippi school district proposes combining its nearly all-black high school with a racially mixed school by the fall of 2017 to follow a federal court order in a longstanding desegregation case.

Cleveland School District filed a proposed timeline Friday for merging the two high schools.

The district said it reserves the right to appeal the May 13 order by U.S. District Judge Debra Brown that it combine East Side High, where all but one student is black, with Cleveland High, where 48 percent are white and 45 percent are black.

Brown also ordered the merger of D.M. Smith Middle, where all but two students are black, with Margaret Green Junior High, where 41 percent are white and 54 percent are black.

The district proposes the same timeline for the middle schools as for the high schools.

Brown’s order was the latest in a case first filed in 1965. A previous judge approved an open-enrollment plan that let Cleveland students attend the school of their choice, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ordered a more thorough examination.

The plan filed Friday says that this summer, the district will form a multiracial advisory panel and start planning academic and extracurricular activities the combined schools will offer. It will also assess facilities.

This fall, the district will work with the advisory panel to develop marketing plans. It also will review staffing and begin renovations.

This winter, the district plans to notify students of their 2017-18 school assignments; hire or lay off staff members, as needed; and continue working on academic offerings.

In the spring of 2017, the district plans to complete renovations and give parents and students information about the merging schools.

The plan says the merged schools will open in August 2017, and the multiracial advisory panel will continue to address issues that arise.

Across the entire 3,700-student district, about 29 percent of students are white and 67 percent are black. The state counts the others as Asian or Hispanic.

During a hearing in the case, the school district presented expert testimony that white parents were likely to flee to private schools. Beyond Cleveland, only four of 22 other districts in Mississippi’s Delta region have student bodies less than 80 percent African-American.

Brown wrote that the district provided “weak” evidence that it could voluntarily draw white students to East Side High and none at all that it could draw white students to D.M. Smith.

Merging black and white schools was a common desegregation method in the 1960s and 1970s. As recently as 2014, the U.S. Justice Department was still a party to 43 school desegregation suits in Mississippi alone.

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Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report. Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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