ST. LOUIS • The reorganization of the Ferguson-Florissant School District can continue despite claims of discrimination from the city of Berkeley, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
The city and five Berkeley families have sued the school district to try to stop the closure of Airport Elementary School and the conversion of McCluer South-Berkeley High School to a selective magnet school, among other changes.
The redistricting plan “does not eliminate all schools from the city of Berkeley,” U.S. District Judge Ronnie White said Thursday in denying the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order to halt the plan.
In his ruling, White said the redistricting plan had been chosen “to benefit the entire district community.”
One of the families who filed in February the lawsuit against the district lives two blocks from Airport school, said Eric Banks, attorney for Berkeley and the families.
“They’re concerned about having to go a further distance, concerned about needing to get reacclimated involuntarily to a new environment, new students and new teachers,” he said. “Neighborhood schools are an amenity that most of us grew up with, and most of us still appreciate the concept.”
The Ferguson-Florissant School Board voted last fall on the plan that will close three schools at the end of this school year — Airport Elementary, Vogt Elementary in Ferguson and Mark Twain alternative school in Florissant.
The district’s remaining two schools in Berkeley will be reconfigured by fall, with Holman Elementary converting to prekindergarten through second grade classrooms and Berkeley Middle School hosting third through fifth grades.
McCluer South-Berkeley High School in Ferguson will become a selective academy for science and the arts, meaning some students previously assigned there will have to transfer to McCluer or McCluer North high schools.
One of the district’s priorities is improving access to early education by adding preschool classrooms in each city, said Kevin Hampton, spokesman for the school district.
“As a district, we are about uniting our community,” Hampton said. “We want every municipality we serve to feel a part of the work we’re doing.”
The redistricting plan was created in response to declining enrollment and population in the district, which currently has about 4,000 empty seats, officials said.
At the time the plan was approved, Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins criticized the decision’s impact on the city, which is more than 80 percent African-American. The 4-3 redistricting vote fell along racial lines, with white school board members voting yes and black members voting no.
For some residents, the plan brought back painful memories, including the closure of Berkeley High School in 2003 for an expansion of St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Berkeley once had its own school district; it was absorbed along with Kinloch schools into the Ferguson-Florissant district in 1975 under the order of a federal judge.
A separate federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU against the Ferguson-Florissant district in 2014 led to a change in the voting process for the school board. Cumulative voting was used for the first time in this month’s election in an effort to boost racial equity on the school board.
Despite the change, the board’s racial makeup stayed at four white members and three black members.