THOMASVILLE -- An appeal brought by the Thomas County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- asking the U.S. District Court to reverse its decision to clear Thomasville City Schools of actively implementing racially discriminatory practices -- is nearing a close.

The suit, which was contested for nearly five years, was settled Feb. 5, 2004, when Judge Clay D. Land found in favor of the school system. The Thomasville City Board of Education was content with the ruling, said school attorney Jerry Lumley.

However, the NAACP filed an appeal in March of that year. In light of the NAACP's action, the school system also has filed an appeal, hoping to recoup some of the cost to defend itself.

"We're asking the 11th Court District to award us costs and expenses," he said. The most Thomasville City Schools can reasonably expect to recoup in the appeal, Lumley said is $50,000-$75,000. The school system spent some $300,000 in the lengthy trial, and will spend an estimated $15,000 in the appeals process.

The appeal is being heard by a panel of three judges -- two from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and one from the 8th Circuit. No new evidence will be presented in the appeal. The panel has been asked to re-examine the findings from the original case.

On Feb. 2, both sides presented oral arguments to the panel.

"During the course of the argument, the NAACP attorney made the argument stating that grouping practices in the school system has been the same since 1971," Lumley said.

Lumley argued that evidence presented in the original trial does not support that claim. He said he's confident the appeal panel will uphold the court's ruling.

"I feel very good about our chances," Lumley said. "There's no doubt the courts are very interested in this case, because the issues are widespread. I feel we're going to be successful."

The trial began Monday, July 21, 2003 with Land presiding. The plaintiff, the Thomas County branch of the NAACP, brought suit "seeking an end to the racially segregated and unequal education system first established pursuant to Georgia's de jure system of education, and preserved, perpetuated and re-established in current policies and practices or the district."

The plaintiffs accused the school system of cultivating racist and discriminatory behaviors in several of its schools, in various areas of the classroom, extracurricular activities, programs and services.

Court findings indicated evidence of racism was presented by the plaintiff, but that it found no evidence that the school system did anything to perpetuate it.

To contact reporter Brewer Turley, call (229) 226-2400, ext. 226.

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