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Supporters of shuttered Memphis Carver High not giving up yet

Attorney Bruce S. Kramer outlines legal options to supporters of Carver High School, which was shuttered this summer by Shelby County's school board.
Attorney Bruce S. Kramer outlines legal options to supporters of Carver High School, which was shuttered this summer by Shelby County's school board.
Caroline Bauman

In a Baptist church a short walk from Carver High School, attorneys shared their game plan Tuesday evening for a potential lawsuit against Shelby County’s school board for voting to close the 59-year-old south Memphis school.

The first step will be to set up negotiations with the school board, according to attorney Patrick Morris. If those conversations don’t yield results, attorneys will explore legal action.

Morris and Bruce S. Kramer are attorneys from Apperson Crump, Memphis’ oldest law firm. They spoke to about 30 Carver supporters during a neighborhood meeting at Bloomfield Baptist Church organized by Ralph White, a Carver graduate and local pastor leading the grassroots charge against the board’s June 9 decision.

Morris warned the group to expect a “long, drawn-out fight.”

“We’re just getting our toes in the water,” Kramer added. “We don’t know all the facts and figures yet, but I’ve seen school closings disproportionately affect economically disadvantaged black kids in Memphis. That’s what we’re looking into.”

Carver served a student population that was all black and more than 90 percent economically disadvantaged, according to the most recent state data.

District administrators cited under-enrollment and chronic low academic performance as the reasons for closing the school. During the most recent school year, Carver had 198 students and almost 1,000 empty seats.

White and other members of the Carver community are crowdsourcing to fund legal fees. Kramer and Morris said they will work for half of their normal hourly rate.

“We’re not here to get rich,” Kramer said. “We believe what’s happening to these schools is wrong, and we won’t let the attorney fees issue get in the way of what’s right.”

They bring significant experience to the table.

Kramer, who joined the Memphis firm in 2012, has been a Tennessee lawyer since 1969. He was named the Frank Carrington Champion of Civil Justice Award in 2002 and formerly served as director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee.

White said there are no plans to seek an injunction against the board’s decision to close Carver, meaning there’s no chance of reversing the board’s decision for the upcoming school year. The goal of litigation, he said, would be to reopen the school.

One supporter asked how this case would differ from a lawsuit filed against the district by parents and teachers at South Side, a middle school shuttered last year by Shelby County Schools. That suit, which was later dismissed, argued that school closures violate students’ rights to a quality education.

The lawyers didn’t have an answer. “I’ll look into that,” Morris said.

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