Rogelio V. Solis/AP

"The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally guaranteed right of an integrated education," U.S. District Judge Debra Brown said

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May 17, 2016 10:10 AM

It’s been 62 years since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling on school desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education, but a school district in Mississippi is only now fully desegregating their schools.

On Friday, a federal court ordered the Cleveland School District to merge four schools in order to achieve meaningful desegregation for students.

The small town of Cleveland is home to 12,000 residents who are largely divided by railroad tracks that separate east from west – as well as black from white.

In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Debra Brown ordered the district to merge East Side High, where all but one student is black, with Cleveland High, where 48 percent of students are white and 45 percent are black.

The district was also ordered to consolidate D.M. Smith Middle, where all but two students are black, with Margaret Green Junior High, where 41 percent of students are white and 54 percent are black.

“The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally guaranteed right of an integrated education,” Brown said in a 96-page opinion. “Although no court order can right these wrongs, it is the duty of the district to ensure that not one more student suffers under this burden.”

After rejecting two alternatives proposed by the school district – saying they were unconstitutional – the Justice Department said the school district operated an “inadequate dual system.”

“Six decades after the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education declared that ‘separate but equal has no place’ in public schools, this decision serves as a reminder to districts that delaying desegregation obligations is both unacceptable and unconstitutional,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.

“This victory creates new opportunities for the children of Cleveland to learn, play and thrive together. The court’s ruling will result in the immediate and effective desegregation of the district’s middle school and high school program for the first time in the district’s more than century-long history.”

The decision comes after a 51-year-long legal battle to fully desegregate schools in the district, which is 66 percent black and 30 percent white. The first suit filed against the school district came in 1965, according to the opinion handed down on Friday.

Brown also ordered the district to submit a timeline to implement the desegregation plan within 21 days.

A lawyer for the district told the Jacksonville Clarion-Ledger that they are still reviewing the 96-page decision and are deciding whether to appeal.

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