It was a 21-year journey that proved to be as eventful as it was uneasy.
In the nearly two decades since, the Lubbock Independent School District has learned, grown and prospered as a result of a desegregation suit that began in the days of Richard Nixon’s administration and ended in the months before Bill Clinton took office.
“It was a good thing,” said Bob Craig, a local attorney who was LISD board president when the case ended. “The district had made great progress, and that case had great significance in terms of how the district proceeded in the future.”
The initial warning signs to confront the LISD occurred in 1968, according to an A-J article, when the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare claimed the system was segregated and urged federal aid be cut. At that time, five LISD schools were either all white or all black. In June, 1970, a hearing determined the system was in compliance and rejected the claim.
A mere two months later, though, the Justice Department filed suit against 26 Texas school districts, including Lubbock, charging them with operating segregated school systems, according to The A-J article.
The case landed in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Halbert O. Woodward, who would monitor the district’s progress and hold the LISD accountable for the next 21 years.
“I think we were fortunate to have a man as skilled and wise as Judge Woodward,” said current LISD Superintendent Wayne Havens, who was a coach at Thompson and Smylie Wilson junior high schools during the early days of the case. “He took care of the district as a whole, and the decisions he made were made in the best interest of the kids.”
Woodward, who died in 2000, ordered white students to be bused into Dunbar High School and Struggs Junior High four days before the start of the 1970-71 school year. In 1978, Woodward gave the district two months to desegregate nine more high-minority schools, including seven elementaries, on the city’s east and north sides, according to The A-J. The desegregation of Bozeman Elementary and Matthews Junior High came three years later, and the district was busing about 2,000 students daily at one point.
The case also prompted the district to sow the seeds of a magnet school program, the genesis of a success story the LISD can still tell today, Havens said.
“Iles Elementary was our first magnet program, and we had success there,” he said. “Because of that, our other magnet schools have flourished and been successful when that hasn’t always been the case with magnet programs in other communities.”
Steadily, the case moved toward resolution. Former LISD Superintendent Mike Moses recalled two critical — and emotional — issues that had to be taken care of before the district could emerge from Woodward’s purview.
“One was the resolution of the Thompson (Junior High) property where Thompson had once sat and what would happen with regard to that property and a new junior high,” he said. “The other issue was we had only about 200 students at Dunbar, and Estacado was down the street with about 1,000 students or in that vicinity. We could not offer the kind of course work and curriculum that students graduating from high school needed at Dunbar.”
Moses said the LISD wanted to be transparent with the court about its plans for each facility. The district planned to convert Dunbar to a junior high and construct a new junior high that would not be located on the Thompson property.
“Those were two very emotional issues,” he said. “It was very difficult, no doubt about that. We made a decision to be forthcoming with the court about what we wanted to do and what we needed to do to be released from the court’s supervision because of the fact that we had substantially complied with the orders of the court.”
The result: Dunbar did become a junior high, and Cavazos Junior High was built on north University Avenue. In 1988, Woodward said the LISD had removed all traces of segregation and imposed a three-year transition period in which the LISD desegregation plan would remain in effect, according to an A-J article.
“I know at that time, there were a lot of emotions flowing about that,” Moses said, “and I think everybody handled themselves well — those who were for the decision and those who opposed us. In the end, there was a coming together, and Dunbar has been a very successful magnet program for the district.
“Cavazos, that building on that 20-acre plot of land has served the community well. I hope in hindsight that we can look back and say good work was done.”
Craig said the district had worked hard throughout the long case to comply.
“After being in it for 20 years, it was, in my opinion, time for Lubbock to move out from under the order,” he said. “It was a very positive situation. The district worked for many years to do the right thing and make sure all students had good opportunities, but it was time for it to end, and I think it ended, fortunately, under Judge Woodward’s watch.”
Moses agreed that a lot of credit goes to the even-handed Woodward, whose jurisdiction over the LISD officially ended Sept. 11, 1991.
“Judge Woodward was very balanced in his handling of the case,” Moses said. “He was interested in the schoolchildren, no question. He had a real sense of fairness. He lived in the community, and he understood the dynamics of the community.”
Havens saw the impact of the case not only as an LISD employee, but also as a parent. His two sons were among the students bused.
“My viewpoint of it is as much from that of a parent as a school person,” he said. “At that time, I think the whole community was probably a little apprehensive. Once we got involved with it, though, it produced some of the best experiences our two boys had.”
Craig said the LISD continues to feel the effects.
“I think the district has continued to follow what was laid out in the desegregation plan in offering opportunities to students throughout the district,” he said. “That is where the magnet schools and other good programs originated, due to the desegregation plan.”
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