Manning v. Bd. of Pub. Instruction ( 2001 )


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                  IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
                                                                     FILED
                           FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT          U.S. COURT OF APPEALS
                            ________________________           ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
                                                                   MAR 16 2001
                                                                THOMAS K. KAHN
                                    No. 99-2049                      CLERK
                             ________________________
    
                        D. C. Docket No. 58-03554-CIV-T-17C
    
    ANDREW L. MANNING, a minor, by his
    father and next friend, Willie Manning,
    SHAYRON R. REED, by her father and next
    friend, Sanders B. Reed, SANDRA E. REED, et al.,
    
                                                                Plaintiffs-Appellees,
    
                                        versus
    
    THE SCHOOL BOARD OF
    HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FLORIDA
    (formerly Board of Public Instruction of
    Hillsborough County, Florida), CLYDE
    MCLEOD, et al.,
    
                                                             Defendants-Appellants.
    
                             ________________________
    
                      Appeal from the United States District Court
                          for the Middle District of Florida
                           _________________________
                                  (March 16, 2001)
    
    
    Before BLACK, FAY and COX Circuit Judges.
    BLACK, Circuit Judge:
    
          Appellants, the School Board of Hillsborough County, Florida, and its officials,
    
    appeal two orders of the district court which subject them to continued supervision
    
    under a federal desegregation decree. See Manning v. Sch. Bd. of Hillsborough
    
    County, Fla., 
    24 F. Supp. 2d 1277
     (M.D. Fla.), mot. to alter or amend den., mot. for
    
    clarification granted in part, 
    28 F. Supp. 2d 1353
     (M.D. Fla. 1998). Appellants argue
    
    that they have eliminated the vestiges of past discrimination to the extent practicable
    
    and have fully complied in good faith with the desegregation decree. Accordingly,
    
    Appellants claim their school district should be declared unitary and federal judicial
    
    supervision should cease. Conversely, Appellees, a class of African-American
    
    schoolchildren, contend the school district is not unitary and federal judicial oversight
    
    of Appellants remains necessary. We hold that Appellants have achieved unitary
    
    status. We reverse and remand for the district court to enter judgment, in accordance
    
    with this opinion, declaring the Hillsborough County school system to be unitary.
    
                                     I. BACKGROUND
    
    A. Procedural History
    
          Appellants for many years operated a racially-segregated, dual school system.
    
    As a result of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education
    
    of Topeka, 
    347 U.S. 483
    , 
    74 S. Ct. 686
     (1954) (Brown I), Appellees in 1958 filed this
    
    
                                               2
    class-action lawsuit on behalf of all “minor Negro children and their parents” residing
    
    in Appellants’ school district.1 In 1962, the district court found that Appellants, by
    
    operating a segregated school system, had violated the Fourteenth Amendment. For
    
    the next eight and half years, the district court issued various orders as part of its
    
    efforts to remedy the harm caused by Appellants’ unconstitutional conduct. See, e.g.,
    
    Mannings v. Bd. of Pub. Instruction of Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    306 F. Supp. 497
    
    (M.D. Fla. 1969).
    
           1
               The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Florida. In 1962, the Middle District
    of Florida was created, and the case was transferred to that court’s docket on November 2, 1962.
    In a May 1971 order, the presiding district judge noted that this case was — in 1971 — the
    oldest active case on the docket of the Middle District of Florida. Of course, the same holds true
    today.
             The Honorable Thurgood Marshall, prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court,
    served as one of the attorneys for Appellees. The lead plaintiff was, and still is, Andrew L.
    Manning; through the many years of litigation, his surname has frequently, and incorrectly, been
    spelled “Mannings.” The institutional defendant was formerly known as the Board of Public
    Instruction of Hillsborough County.
             The following are the published opinions arising from this case: Mannings v. Bd. of Pub.
    Instruction of Hillsborough County, Fla. 
    277 F.2d 370
     (5th Cir. 1960); Mannings v. Bd. of Pub.
    Instruction of Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    306 F. Supp. 497
     (M.D. Fla. 1969); Mannings v. Bd. of
    Pub. Instruction of Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    427 F.2d 874
     (5th Cir. 1970); Mannings v. Sch.
    Bd. of Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    796 F. Supp. 1491
     (M.D. Fla. 1992); Mannings v. Sch. Bd. of
    Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    816 F. Supp. 714
     (M.D. Fla. 1993); Mannings v. Sch. Bd. of
    Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    149 F.R.D. 235
     (M.D. Fla. 1993); Mannings v. Sch. Bd. of
    Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    149 F.R.D. 237
     (M.D. Fla. 1993); Mannings v. Sch. Bd. of
    Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    1994 WL 151045
     (M.D. Fla. 1994); Mannings v. Sch. Bd. of
    Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    851 F. Supp. 436
     (M.D. Fla. 1994); Mannings v. Sch. Bd. of
    Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    1994 WL 361994
     (M.D. Fla. 1994); Mannings v. Sch. Bd. of
    Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    1995 WL 689341
     (M.D. Fla. 1995); Mannings v. Sch. Bd. of
    Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    1995 WL 689348
     (M.D. Fla. 1995); Manning v. Sch. Bd. of
    Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    1999 WL 786373
     (M.D. Fla. 1999). Additionally, a law review
    article is devoted exclusively to this litigation. See Drew S. Days, III, The Other Desegregation
    Story: Eradicating the Dual School System in Hillsborough County, Florida, 61 Fordham L.
    Rev. 33 (1992).
    
                                                    3
          In 1970, our predecessor court examined whether Appellants had sufficiently
    
    eradicated the illegal dual school system such that it could be found “unitary.” See
    
    Mannings v. Bd. of Pub. Instruction of Hillsborough County, Fla., 
    427 F.2d 874
     (5th
    
    Cir. 1970). Relying upon the six so-called Green2 factors, the former Fifth Circuit
    
    concluded that, with regard to three factors (transportation, extracurricular activities,
    
    and facilities), Appellants had indeed achieved a unitary school district.                See
    
    Mannings, 427 F.2d at 878. Nonetheless, based on its examination of three other
    
    factors (faculty desegregation, staff desegregation, and student assignments), the court
    
    found Appellants had fallen short and had not attained unitary status. See id. The
    
    case was remanded to the district court with instructions to remedy the deficiencies.
    
    See id.
    
          After remand, the Supreme Court, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board
    
    of Education, 
    402 U.S. 1
    , 
    91 S. Ct. 1267
     (1971), gave firm guidance on a district
    
    court’s equitable power to remedy illegal segregation. On May 11, 1971, just 21 days
    
    after Swann was decided, the district court directed Appellants to submit a
    
    comprehensive desegregation plan that conformed with the requirements of Swann.
    
    Thereafter, Appellants submitted such a plan, and the district court adopted the plan
    
    in its order dated July 2, 1971 (the July 1971 Order). From 1971 to 1991, the district
    
    
          2
              Green v. County Sch. Bd. of New Kent County, 
    391 U.S. 430
    , 
    88 S. Ct. 1689
     (1968).
    
                                                   4
    court’s supervision of Appellants was governed, with some minor modifications,
    
    exclusively by the July 1971 Order.3
    
          In 1991, Appellants and Appellees entered into a consent decree (1991 Consent
    
    Order). The primary reason for the 1991 Consent Order was to enable Appellants to
    
    reorganize the school district, so as to eliminate single grade centers and to create
    
    middle schools. The 1991 Consent Order, which was to be implemented over a 7-year
    
    period, did not annul the July 1971 Order, but merely modified it.
    
          Appellee moved in 1994 to enforce the 1991 Consent Order. The matter was
    
    referred to the magistrate judge who recommended denying the motion. The district
    
    judge, however, deferred ruling on the motion and sua sponte recommitted the matter
    
    to the magistrate judge to consider whether the school district had become unitary,
    
    thereby removing the need for federal judicial oversight.
    
          In October 1996, the magistrate judge conducted a 7-day hearing, at which both
    
    sides presented considerable evidence. In August 1997, the magistrate judge issued
    
    a detailed report and recommendation wherein she recommended the district court
    
    find that Appellants had achieved unitary status and thus should be released from
    
    federal judicial supervision. Without holding an evidentiary hearing, the district judge
    
    in a 110-page order dated October 26, 1998, rejected in part and adopted in part the
    
    
          3
              For a summary of the minor modifications, see infra note 6.
    
                                                    5
    magistrate judge’s report and recommendation. See Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1277-
    
    1335. The district judge concluded that Appellants had not attained unitary status and
    
    therefore federal judicial supervision was still warranted.4 See Manning, 
    24 F. Supp. 2d
     at 1335. Within ten days of the order dated October 26, 1998, Appellants filed a
    
    motion to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). The district
    
    court, in a 13-page order, denied the motion on December 4, 1998. See Manning, 28
    
    F.Supp.2d at 1361. Within 30 days, Appellants filed a notice of appeal as to the
    
    district judge’s orders of October 26, 1998, and December 4, 1998.
    
    B. Facts
    
           To analyze this case that has endured for over 40 years, we first summarize the
    
    contents of the July 1971 Order and the 1991 Consent Order, which, with minor
    
    modifications, have served as the guideposts for Appellants’ journey toward a unitary
    
    school district. Then, we set forth the district court’s most recent factual findings with
    
    respect to Appellants’ unitary status.
    
           1. July 1971 Order
    
    
    
    
           4
              Before the district court, Appellees also argued that, even if the school district were
    unitary, this status would not constitute a “changed circumstance” warranting a modification or
    vacation of the 1991 Consent Order. See Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1287-88 (citing Rufo v.
    Inmates of Suffolk County Jail, 
    502 U.S. 367
    , 
    112 S. Ct. 748
     (1992)). The district court rejected
    Appellees’ argument. See id. at 1288. Since Appellees do not contest this ruling on appeal, we
    do not address it.
    
                                                    6
          As previously discussed, the district court ordered Appellants in May of 1971
    
    to submit a comprehensive desegregation plan. The district court stated that the
    
    “primary objective” of the plan should be the abolition of segregation. In particular,
    
    the district court sought to eliminate, at every school, racial balances where black
    
    students comprised more than 50% of the student population. The district court
    
    further stated that the “most acceptable and desirable” result would be a white/black
    
    ratio of 86%/14% in senior high schools, 80%/20% in junior high schools, and
    
    79%/21% in elementary schools.
    
           The July 1971 Order, which ratified Appellants’ proposed desegregation plan,
    
    dealt primarily with student assignments in grades one through twelve.                        For
    
    elementary schools, the plan clustered each predominately black school with two to
    
    five predominantly white schools. The white schools would be used for grades one
    
    through five and would be integrated with black children from “satellite zones”5 who
    
    had previously attended the black school in the cluster. The black school in each
    
    cluster would be used as a sixth-grade center and would be integrated with white
    
    children who had previously attended the white schools in the cluster.
    
          For junior high schools, each black school would be clustered with one to three
    
    white schools. The black schools would be used for seventh grade, and the white
    
    
          5
              A satellite zone is an area not contiguous with the main attendance zone for the school.
    
                                                    7
    schools would be used for eighth and ninth grades. Again, the schools would be
    
    integrated with students from satellite zones. For senior high schools, the two black
    
    schools would be closed, but their facilities would be used for junior high schools.
    
    Through a series of re-zoning and satellite busing measures, the white high schools
    
    would be integrated.
    
           With regard to faculty and staff, the district court had previously entered an
    
    order on August 25, 1970. In the July 1971 Order, the court found that no additional
    
    measures were necessary, and it directed Appellants to continue to abide by the
    
    August 25, 1970, order. With respect to transportation, facilities, and extracurricular
    
    activities, the July 1971 Order directed Appellants to comply with all previous orders.
    
    The order also mandated that all operations relating to these areas should be conducted
    
    in a non-discriminatory manner and should be regularly re-examined by Appellants.
    
           The July 1971 Order also remarked on four other topics: (1) majority to
    
    minority transfers, (2) other transfer rules, (3) the bi-racial committee, and
    
    (4) approval of site locations. Specifically, the district court stated, “Each of these has
    
    been required by previous orders of this Court. Some of them may not be required if
    
    [Appellants’] plan is effectuated and accomplished.” Nevertheless, the district court
    
    stated that it was “retaining jurisdiction and [would] require the continuation of all of
    
    these procedures to be available and used as necessary.”
    
    
                                                8
          Attached to the July 1971 Order were two exhibits which explained the bi-racial
    
    committee, majority-to-minority transfers, and other transfer rules. The bi-racial
    
    committee was to serve as an advisory body on a number of issues and was to consist
    
    of ten members, with Appellants and Appellees each selecting five members. In some
    
    instances, the committee was to receive reports about students transferring from their
    
    assigned schools. In other instances, Appellants were barred from approving student
    
    transfers before considering a recommendation from the committee.
    
          Concerning majority-to-minority transfers, the attached exhibits stated the
    
    following:
    
          Majority to minority transfer – Any student shall be permitted to transfer
          from a school in which his race is in the majority in order to attend the
          closest school to his residence in which his race is in the minority.
          ....
          The transfer forms shall be available at each public school in
          Hillsborough County and the County School offices.
          ....
          The transferee is to be given priority for space and thus the transfer is not
          to be dependent on space being available.
    
          Transportation will be provided by the School Board in service or in
          kind to the school to which the transfer is made if that school is more
          than two miles from the home.
    
          In conclusion, the July 1971 Order stated that Appellants’ desegregation plan
    
    “fully complie[d] with the [district] [c]ourt’s order of May 11, 1971," and that it
    
    would “result in the establishment of a unitary school system in Hillsborough County,
    
    
                                               9
    Florida.” The July 1971 Order noted, however, that Appellants had a “continuing
    
    responsibility” to ensure the plan would be effectuated. Moreover, each year
    
    following the implementation of the July 1971 Order, Appellants filed two reports per
    
    year with the district court and provided copies to Appellees. Lastly, the July 1971
    
    Order retained jurisdiction in the district court for “such further action as may be
    
    necessary and required.”
    
           2. 1991 Consent Order
    
           Between 1971 and 1991, the modifications to the July 1971 Order were minor.6
    
    By 1991, however, Appellants had determined, based upon a comprehensive study,
    
    that the school district would benefit if middle schools (grades 6-8) were established.
    
    To accomplish this, the July 1971 Order had to be modified, because that order had
    
    relied extensively on single-grade centers (grades 6 and 7) to desegregate the school
    
    district. Thus, Appellants entered into negotiations with Appellees, and the product
    
    of those negotiations was the 1991 Consent Order.
    
    
    
    
           6
              The modifications included, inter alia: changes in transfer rules for children of school
    employees; approval of a new high school site; changes in academic transfer rules; the closure of
    certain schools; and the creation of magnet schools. Perhaps, the most significant modification
    dealt with Lee Elementary School, which by 1974 had a black population in excess of 50%. To
    correct this imbalance, Appellants, pursuant to the district court’s order, converted Lee to a
    sixth-grade center and transferred the former Lee students (first through fifth graders) to seven
    other elementary schools.
    
                                                   10
           The centerpiece of the 1991 Consent Order was the Middle School Task Force
    
    Report 3 of July 1991 (hereinafter “Task Force Report”), which the district court
    
    incorporated into the consent order.7 The Task Force Report was presented to the
    
    school board by a 12-person committee. This committee included Mr. Henry Carley,
    
    President of the Tampa Branch of the NAACP. In addition, a legal committee,
    
    consisting of, inter alia, Mr. Al Davis of the NAACP, reviewed the Task Force
    
    Report, and Appellees’ own desegregation expert, Dr. Leonard Stevens, was involved
    
    in shaping the Task Force Report. Furthermore, the Task Force Report included two
    
    separate position statements prepared by various African-American community
    
    groups (Howard W. Blake Alumni Group, Coalition of African American
    
    Organizations, Greater Tampa Urban League, Inc., and Beta Sigma Zeta Chapter of
    
    Zeta Phi Beta Sorority). In sum, as the 1991 Consent Order explained, the Task Force
    
    Report was the result of “extensive discussions” between Appellants and Appellees,
    
    and the discussions were designed to “to ensure . . . that plans for the implementation
    
    of the [Task Force Report] were formulated in a manner that addressed the interests
    
    and concerns of [Appellees].”
    
    
    
    
           7
            The parties and the district court use interchangeably the terms “Task Force Report”
    and “Middle School Plan.” For the sake of simplicity, we use solely the term Task Force Report.
    
                                                  11
          The Task Force Report proposed substantial changes to the structure of the
    
    school system. Under the July 1971 Order, the school system generally had consisted
    
    of five tiers: elementary schools (grades K-5), sixth-grade centers, seventh-grade
    
    centers, junior high schools (grades 8-9), and high schools (grades 10-12). In contrast,
    
    the Task Force Report called for a three-tier school system: elementary schools
    
    (grades K-5); middle schools (grades 6-8); and high schools (grades 9-12). This new
    
    structure would be achieved through a so-called “cluster model,” under which 17
    
    clusters would be formed. For each cluster, the high school would serve as the “basic
    
    unit” and its students would be drawn from “feeder” middle and elementary schools.
    
    The Task Force Report estimated that it would take five to seven years to implement
    
    the cluster model.
    
          The cluster model proposed by Task Force Report was undoubtedly the most
    
    substantial change to the structure of the school system since the July 1971 Order.
    
    The objective of July 1971 Order had been to desegregate the school system. By
    
    contrast, one of the primary objectives of the Task Force Report was “to maintain a
    
    desegregated school system.” (emphasis added). In an apparent attempt to meet this
    
    objective, the 1991 Consent Order directed Appellants “to minimize (to the extent
    
    practicable) the number of schools which deviate from the system-wide student
    
    enrollment [race] ratios.”     Moreover, the 1991 Consent Order assumed that
    
    
                                              12
    intervening demographic changes might necessitate future modifications in student
    
    assignments in order to maintain a desegregated school district.8
    
           To further the goal of maintaining desired race ratios, the Task Force Report
    
    attempted to project the race ratios at each school after the cluster plan’s
    
    implementation. In summary, the Task Force Report predicted:
    
           The number of schools reflecting a ten or higher percent race ratio
           variance [from the recommended ratio of 20/80%] will increase from 36
           to 46. The plan also increases the number of schools from 56 to 72 that
           will have an almost perfectly balanced race ratio with a student variance
           of five percent or less from the recommended ratio of 20/80% ratio.
    
    Appendix 1 of the Task Force Report provided more detail as to the projected racial
    
    balance at each school. Fourteen schools were projected to have a 40% or greater
    
    black population,9 and an additional four schools were projected to have a 39% black
    
    population.10 These projections, as part of the Task Force Report, were incorporated
    
    into the 1991 Consent Order — a consent decree to which Appellees were parties.
    
    
    
           8
               This assumption was wrong as a matter of law. External factors which are not the
    result of segregation and are beyond a school board’s control should not be part of the remedial
    calculus when shaping a federal desegregation decree. See Missouri v. Jenkins, 
    515 U.S. 70
    ,
    102, 
    115 S. Ct. 2038
    , 2055-56 (1995) (citing Pasadena City Bd. of Educ. v. Spangler, 
    427 U.S. 424
    , 434, 
    96 S. Ct. 2697
    , 2703-04 (1976)); infra Part II.B.1.
           9
             The 14 schools, with their projected race ratios, were as follows: Lomax (94%),
    Edison (64%), Sulphur Springs (59%), Graham (58%), Oak Park (58%), Cleveland (50%),
    Franklin (47%), Sligh (46%), Lockhart (45%), Palm River (41%), West Tampa (41%), Shaw
    (41%), B.T. Washington (40%), Witter (40%).
           10
                The four schools were Foster, Bing, Dowdell, and Just.
    
                                                    13
           Along with projecting race ratios, the Task Force Report instituted a variety of
    
    programs designed to maintain a desegregated school system. For example, the report
    
    implemented magnet programs,11 which were designed in part “to reduce minority
    
    isolation” and “to promote desegregation in schools.”12 The report also suggested a
    
    multi-cultural curriculum for students in all grades and instructional sessions to enable
    
    staff to deal with diverse populations.
    
           One omission in the Task Force Report, however, is particularly noteworthy in
    
    light of subsequent events: majority-to-minority transfers. Although they had been
    
    discussed briefly in the July 1971 Order, majority-to-minority transfers were not
    
    mentioned once in the 37-page Task Force Report, nor in the 8 attached appendices,
    
    nor in the 1991 Consent Order. Dr. Stevens — Appellees’ desegregation expert who
    
    helped shape the Task Force Report — admitted at the 1996 evidentiary hearing that
    
    majority-to-minority transfers would have been insignificant in alleviating the racial
    
    imbalances in the school district.
    
           3. Factual Findings
    
    
    
    
           11
             The magnet programs were intended to supplement a traditional curriculum with a
    focus on special “themes”, such as computers and technology or visual and performing arts.
           12
              In addition, the “racial composition targets for magnet school populations [was] not
    [to] exceed 40% black.”
    
                                                   14
           The magistrate judge, in her 1997 report and recommendation, structured her
    
    factual findings around the six Green factors,13 plus a seventh factor, quality of
    
    education, which has been used by some courts to evaluate a school district’s unitary
    
    status. See, e.g., Mills v. Freeman, 
    942 F. Supp. 1449
    , 1460 (N.D. Ga. 1996), aff’d,
    
    
    118 F.3d 727
     (11th Cir. 1997). In addition, the magistrate judge made factual findings
    
    regarding Appellants’ good-faith compliance with past desegregation decrees, as
    
    required by Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell, 
    498 U.S. 237
    , 250, 
    111 S. Ct. 630
    , 638 (1991), and its progeny. Based on all of these findings, the magistrate
    
    judge recommended the school district be declared unitary in all respects and that
    
    federal judicial supervision of the school district be terminated.
    
           The district judge found that the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation
    
    was “comprehensive” and “agree[d] with a majority of the [m]agistrate [j]udge’s
    
    analysis.” Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1287. For six of the seven factors (faculty, staff,
    
    transportation, extracurricular activities, facilities and resource allocation, and quality
    
    of education), the district judge adopted most, if not all, of the magistrate judge’s
    
    findings.14 See id. at 1316-34. In their brief to this Court, Appellees do not contest
    
    
           13
               Those six factors are student assignments, faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular
    activities, and facilities and resource allocation. See Green, 391 U.S. at 435, 88 S. Ct. at 1693.
           14
               Regarding these six factors, the district judge’s order is less than clear. After a
    thorough review, however, we are convinced that the district judge overruled most, and possibly
    all, of Appellees’ objections to the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation. The
    
                                                     15
    the findings related to these six factors, and thus further elaboration is unnecessary
    
    except to emphasize that the findings support a declaration of unitary status.
    
           With regard to the remaining Green factor (student assignments), the district
    
    judge expressed some disagreement with the magistrate judge. The district judge also
    
    differed with the magistrate judge’s finding on Appellants’ good-faith compliance.
    
    As we discuss in Part II, the district judge used an incorrect legal standard. As a
    
    result, the district judge’s legal conclusion, though based mostly upon the magistrate
    
    judge’s factual findings, was erroneous. To help illuminate our discussion in Part II,
    
    we narrate below the magistrate judge’s factual findings related to student assignments
    
    and Appellants’ good faith, and we highlight, when necessary, particular findings
    
    adopted by the district judge. We also note those few areas where the district judge
    
    rejected the factual findings of the magistrate judge.
    
                   a. Student Assignments
    
           As of the 1995-96 school year, the Hillsborough County school district
    
    consisted of approximately 120,000 students, 108 elementary schools, 27 junior high
    
    schools, and 15 senior high schools. Relying on a standard proposed by Appellees’
    
    and Appellants’ experts, the magistrate judge designated any school with a
    
    
    
    
    objections sustained by the district judge, if any, are inconsequential to our ultimate holding in
    this case.
    
                                                     16
    black/white ratio varying plus or minus 20 points from a 20/80 ratio as being “racially
    
    identifiable” or “racially imbalanced.”15 It was undisputed that, by the 1971-72 school
    
    year, all schools were desegregated. Furthermore, the evidence showed that, at the
    
    time of the 1996 evidentiary hearing, approximately 90% of the schools were not
    
    racially identifiable. Appellees, however, identified 17 schools as racially identifiable
    
    
    
    
           15
              Since the parties agree on what constitutes a racially identifiable school, we shall
    accept their definition for purposes of this case and this case only. We pass no judgment on the
    correctness of this definition.
    
                                                   17
    and made these schools the focus of the 1996 evidentiary hearing.16 Ironically, of
    
    these 17 schools, 9 were among the 14 schools that the Task Force Report projected
    
    
             16
               Both the district judge and the magistrate judge referred to 16 schools. A review of
    the Joint Pre-Evidentiary Hearing Statement and the report by Appellees’ expert reveals that
    Appellees challenged the racial identifiability of 17 schools. Both the district judge and the
    magistrate judge omitted Mort Elementary from their findings. This oversight, however, is of no
    significance. The following are the percentages of black students at each of these 17 challenged
    schools during the 1972-73 and 1995-96 school years:
    
     School                                  Percentage of Black       Percentage of Black
                                             Students, 1972-73         Students, 1995-96
     Robles                                  24%                       91%
     Edison                                  36%                       77%
     Sulphur Springs                         19%                       74%
     Oak Park                                23%                       69%
     Graham                                  35%                       67%
     Foster                                  21%                       61%
     Cleveland                               26%                       58%
     Shaw                                    15%                       57%
     Witter                                  18%                       54%
     Cahoon                                  21%                       53%
     Clair Mel                               18%                       49%
     West Tampa                              14%                       47%
     DeSoto                                  35%                       43%
     Mort                                    N/A                       43%
     Van Buren                               17%                       53%
     Sligh                                   20%                       50%
     Dowdell                                 14%                       48%
    
    
                                                   18
    would have a 40% or greater black population, and two were among the four schools
    
    that the Task Force Report projected would have a 39% black population.17
    
    Immediately after the July 1971 Order was implemented, all of these schools became
    
    racially balanced.18
    
           The critical factual question at the evidentiary hearing was whether the racial
    
    imbalances at the 17 schools were caused by Appellants’ past de jure segregation (or
    
    other discriminatory conduct), or whether, instead, the racial imbalances were caused
    
    by nondiscriminatory factors and circumstances. In a joint statement submitted prior
    
    to the evidentiary hearing, Appellants contended that demographic shifts had caused
    
    the schools to become racially identifiable. In the same joint statement, Appellees did
    
    not directly rebut Appellants’ contention, but instead argued that “[d]emographic
    
    change alone does not account for the racial identifiability in the Hillsborough County
    
    school system.” (emphasis added).
    
           To resolve their factual dispute, the parties presented considerable evidence to
    
    the magistrate judge, including, inter alia, reports on attendance boundaries,
    
    demographic reports, and expert testimony. We need not repeat all this evidence here,
    
    as it is fully set forth in the opinion of the district court. See Manning, 
    24 F. Supp. 2d 17
                Compare supra notes 9, 10 with supra note 16.
           18
             One school, Mort, was not listed in the 1971 report submitted by Appellants and thus
    presumably did not exist at that time.
    
                                                   19
    at 1290-1312. Instead, we compare the findings of the magistrate judge to those of
    
    the district judge.
    
           The magistrate judge, in her report and recommendation, recounted the expert
    
    testimony of Dr. David Armor, one of Appellants’ experts — testimony that the
    
    magistrate judge personally observed. Dr. Armor explained that he reviewed the
    
    extensive demographic data contained in a report by Dr. W.A.V. Clark, another of
    
    Appellants’ experts. Based on this evidence, Dr. Armor opined on the witness stand
    
    that “none of the schools that were currently imbalanced . . . were caused by
    
    [Appellants’] action[s,]” but rather such imbalances “were caused by demographics.”
    
    The magistrate judge also reviewed the testimony of Dr. Fred Shelley, Appellees’
    
    demographic expert — once again, testimony that the magistrate judge personally
    
    observed. Dr. Shelley did not conduct his own demographic study, but rather relied
    
    on the data supplied by Dr. Clark (Appellants’ expert). Dr. Shelley opined “that it is
    
    perhaps difficult to conclude that [the] increase in racial imbalance is attributable
    
    solely to the processes of natural demographic change.” In the end, the magistrate
    
    judge agreed with Dr. Armor and found that demographic change is the “most likely
    
    
    
    
                                             20
    explanation” for the racial imbalances. The magistrate judge faulted Dr. Shelley for
    
    not providing an alternative explanation for the racial imbalances.19
    
           The district judge, though not observing any of the testimony, agreed for the
    
    most part with the findings of the magistrate judge. In conformity with Dr. Armor’s
    
    opinion (and the magistrate judge’s finding), the district judge found that “[t]here
    
    [was] no indication that the racial identity of the schools in Hillsborough County has
    
    been deliberately caused by segregative policies or practices by [Appellants]” and that
    
    “based on the totality of the evidence, a shift in demographics [was] a substantial
    
    cause of the racial identifiability in Hillsborough County’s schools.” Manning, 24
    
    F.Supp.2d at 1303, 1310. The district judge likewise was unable to cite, in either of
    
    her two orders, any independent demographic evidence put forward by Appellees or
    
    an alternative explanation proffered by Dr. Shelley as to the cause of the racial
    
    imbalances.
    
    
           19
               In his report, Dr. Shelley did not attempt to link the present racial imbalances with past
    de jure segregation, but rather merely tried to prove that demographics alone did not cause the
    upsurge in racially identifiable schools. At the evidentiary hearing, when asked how his report
    differed from Dr. Clark’s report, Dr. Shelley responded:
            My reaction to the report was that, while I thought the demographic analysis was
            very good, what I felt was missing in the report was how to reason from the
            analysis of the demographic change that was undertaken to a conclusion that
            demographic change was the sole cause of the observed racial imbalance in the
            public schools in Hillsborough County.
    Tr. of Evidentiary Hearing on October 24, 1996, Vol. 4, at 66 (emphasis added). Dr. Shelley
    expressed doubts that “one can conclude without ambiguity that [the racial] imbalance is caused
    only by natural demographic changes.” Id. at 66-67 (emphasis added).
    
                                                     21
          The district judge seemed to have adopted in toto Appellants’ theory of the case
    
    (and the magistrate judge’s finding). As the district judge stated time and time again,
    
    a shift in demographics was a substantial or significant cause of the racial imbalances,
    
    and Appellants did not deliberately cause the racial imbalances. See id. at 1293
    
    (stating “that the racial imbalances in the schools [were] not the result of a deliberate
    
    attempt by [Appellants] to affect or alter demographic patterns to affect the racial
    
    composition of the schools”); id. at 1311 (finding “the evidence presented by the
    
    parties establishes that a shift in demographics played a significant role in the racial
    
    compositions of the schools” and that Appellants had “not ‘affirmatively’ exacerbated
    
    racial imbalances”); Manning, 28 F.Supp.2d at 1356 (stating that “demographics have
    
    played a significant role in Hillsborough County”). The district judge even agreed
    
    that “[i]t [was] probable that” the 17 challenged “schools would have become racially
    
    imbalanced regardless of [Appellants’] efforts.” Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1303.
    
    Even Appellees’ own expert, according to the district judge, “agreed that
    
    demographics have played a significant role in Hillsborough County.” Id. Despite
    
    all of the evidence showing that demographics, and not de jure segregation, caused
    
    the racial imbalances, the district judge ultimately declined to find the school district
    
    unitary as to student assignments. The district judge declined to so find because she
    
    could not conclude that demographics were the sole cause of the racial imbalances.
    
    
                                               22
    See id. at 1302. In the district judge’s view, therefore, the legal presumption remained
    
    that any racial imbalances were the result of the prior de jure segregation. See
    
    Manning, 28 F.Supp.2d at 1357.
    
                Finally, we note that the district judge’s findings were inconsistent and
    
    difficult to follow. For example, the district judge was concerned by Dr. Clark’s data,
    
    especially with regard to its reliability.20 See Manning, 24 F. Supp.2d at 1298-1300.
    
    Nevertheless, the district judge never stated that the data — which both sides relied
    
    upon —        was so unreliable so as to undermine her finding that “a shift in
    
    demographics [was] a substantial cause of the racial identifiability in Hillsborough
    
    County’s schools.” Id. at 1303. Additionally, the district judge remarked that she was
    
    “not convinced that a shift in demographics explain[ed] the racial imbalance in the
    
    Hillsborough County school system.” Manning, 28 F.Supp.2d at 1356; see also
    
    
    
           20
             In particular, the district judge noted the following:
          [Appellants’] statistics encompass a larger segment of the population than is
          useful to explain the deviations in the racial compositions of the unbalanced
          schools. Specifically, [Appellants] rely on Dr. Clark’s use of school-aged children
          from ages 0-17 to explain enrollment ratios at the elementary schools; however,
          almost one-half of the children included in this group would not, in fact, be
          attending an elementary school. Moreover, while a few blocks in an attendance
          zone may reflect black school-age populations as high as 95%, those few blocks
          only represent a small proportion of the entire attendance zone. Finally, Dr.
          Clark's analysis does not address [Appellants'] initial decisions to draw attendance
          zones, decisions not to act when it was apparent that those zones were
          inappropriate, or other School Board decisions, such as, location of new schools,
          or implementation (or lack thereof) of desegregation tools.
    Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1298.
    
                                                   23
    Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1293. Yet, in the very same sentence, the district judge also
    
    stated that “demographics have played a significant role in Hillsborough County.”
    
    Manning, 28 F.Supp.2d at 1356. In spite of these inconsistencies, we are convinced
    
    that the district judge agreed with the magistrate judge and found that shifting
    
    demographics was a substantial cause of the racial imbalances in Appellants’ student
    
    assignments and that Appellants did not deliberately cause the racial imbalances.
    
          b. Good-Faith Compliance
    
          The magistrate judge concluded that Appellants had complied in good faith
    
    with past federal desegregation decrees, as required by Dowell and its progeny. 498
    
    U.S. at 249-50, 111 S. Ct. at 638. The magistrate judge’s conclusion was based
    
    largely on the testimony given during the 7-day evidentiary hearing by a variety of
    
    witnesses, including inter alia: Dr. Walter Sickles, the school superintendent from
    
    1989 to 1996; Dr. Earl Lennard, the school superintendent as of 1996; five members
    
    of the school board; Doris Reddick, the chair of the school board; Andrew Manning,
    
    the lead plaintiff in the case since its inception; and Joanna Tokley, the president and
    
    CEO of the Urban League.
    
          Dr. Sickles, who had been an employee of the school board since 1969, testified
    
    that he believed the school district was unitary in the early 1990's. Dr. Sickles did not
    
    seek a declaration of unitary status at that time because he believed Appellees would
    
    
                                               24
    have opposed and impeded his effort to establish middle schools, which was his top
    
    priority. Instead, Dr. Sickles sought Appellees’ cooperation in establishing middle
    
    schools via the Task Force Report and the 1991 Consent Order. Dr. Lennard, an
    
    employee of the school board since 1964, testified that he felt a “moral and legal
    
    obligation on the school system to continue a desegregated school system.” Five
    
    school board members “expressed no misgivings about . . . the intent and ability of the
    
    School Board to continue a desegregated school system while receiving input from all
    
    members of the community.”
    
          Some witnesses “voice[d] concern about what might happen in the future if
    
    [c]ourt supervision ended.” For instance, Ms. Reddick, the chair of the school board,
    
    testified against a finding of unitary status. Nevertheless, when asked by Appellees’
    
    counsel what would happen if the school district were found unitary, Ms. Reddick
    
    asserted, “[W]e’re going to guarantee that students will receive equal education.”
    
          The magistrate judge found that for more than 25 years Appellants had
    
    complied with the court’s orders to desegregate and that not once had Appellants been
    
    found in violation of any court order. In addition, the magistrate judge noted that
    
    Appellants had “regularly conferred [with Appellees] . . . to ensure that the school
    
    system was moving forwards, not backwards, toward compliance with the [c]ourt’s
    
    orders.” Accordingly, “the long history of compliance with the [c]ourt’s orders”
    
    
                                              25
    outweighed the “opinions and the anecdotal evidence offered by [Appellees].” In
    
    sum, the magistrate judge concluded, “The testimony of . . . most School Board
    
    members, as well as the current superintendent and those responsible for various
    
    facets of school operation[,] demonstrates that [Appellants] have accepted the
    
    principle of racial equality and will not revert back to a dual school system.”
    
          The district judge, however, did not adopt this finding of good faith. Since the
    
    district judge did not observe any of the testimony from the evidentiary hearing,
    
    naturally she could not evaluate the credibility of the witnesses. Instead, the district
    
    judge’s finding of bad faith centered upon two interrelated areas of concern:
    
    
    
    
                                              26
    Appellants’ “apathy” and the lack of a majority-to-minority (MTM) transfer
    
    program.21 See Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1293, 1312-14.
    
           With regard to Appellants’ “apathy,” the district judge faulted Appellants for
    
    not “utiliz[ing] all available techniques [to desegregate] to the maximum extent
    
    practicable” and for not demonstrating “that they [were] willing to aggressively
    
    desegregate the school district to the maximum extent practicable.” Id. at 1312, 1335.
    
    Additionally, the district judge spoke of missed opportunities and a failure to take
    
    “affirmative steps . . . to be released from the [c]ourt’s supervision.” Id. at 1312;
    
    
           21
              The district judge and the magistrate judge also extensively discussed some ex parte
    communications between a previous presiding judge and school officials . During the
    evidentiary hearing, Dr. John Heur, a retired school board official who had been responsible for
    implementing the July 1971 Order, testified that such communications occurred between 1972
    and 1974. The magistrate judge found that “[t]hese ex parte conversations, while unfortunate,
    were not initiated by [Appellants] and do not demonstrate a lack of good faith.” The district
    judge agreed, finding that, “standing alone, the ex parte communications [did] not evidence bad
    faith.” Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1315.
            Additionally, Part II of the October 26, 1998, opinion is titled “Good-Faith” and
    discusses Appellants’ magnet programs. See id. at 1314-15. This portion of the opinion is very
    confusing. It lists the arguments advanced by Appellees regarding magnet schools, but the
    opinion never states whether it is adopting those arguments. In the opinion of December 4,
    1998, the district judge faults Appellants for their failure to develop magnet schools and
    programs, except for one program at Tampa Bay Technical High School. See Manning, 28
    F.Supp.2d at 1359. But neither opinion ever explains how Appellants’ actions with respect to
    magnet programs demonstrated bad faith.
            We therefore conclude that the district judge did not base her finding of bad faith upon
    Appellants’ magnet programs. Even if the district judge did, in fact, base her finding of bad faith
    on Appellants’ magnet programs, such a finding would be clearly erroneous. In 1990,
    Appellants moved to designate a magnet school, but Appellees opposed the motion. In
    successfully opposing the motion, Appellees argued that “[t]he basic structure of desegregation
    in [Appellants’] school system has remained constant and effective since 1971," and that a
    magnet program would “introduce more uncertainty about whether schools will remain
    desegregated.”
    
                                                    27
    Manning 28 F.Supp.2d at 1359 (citing Lockett v. Bd. of Educ. of Muscogee Sch. Dist.,
    
    
    92 F.3d 1092
    , 1099 (11th Cir. 1996) (Lockett I)). Nevertheless, after a request by
    
    Appellants to clarify exactly what steps should be taken to desegregate to the
    
    maximum extent practicable, see id. at 1355, the district judge declined to give any
    
    specifics.
    
          Related to the issue of apathy is the inaction demonstrated by Appellants in
    
    their MTM program.       As previously noted, the July 1971 Order directed the
    
    establishment of an MTM program. See supra Part I.B.1. Under this program, a
    
    student who attended a school where his race was the majority would be permitted to
    
    transfer to a school where his race was the minority. At the evidentiary hearing, Dr.
    
    John Miliziano, who was Appellants’ “in-house desegregation expert,” expressed
    
    ignorance about the requirement to implement an MTM program:
    
          I dealt with the Biracial Committee for many years, and no member of
          the committee ever brought that up. And to tell you the truth, I thought
          it was one of those things that was considered by the court and it was
          never meant to apply. It wasn't until recently that I, a person who has
          spent many, many years in dealing with the court order, maybe it's
          stupidity on my part, but I didn't even know that this hidden clause —
          this clause, not hidden, but this clause in the [July 1971 Order] meant
          really anything.
    
    Manning, 24 F. Supp.2d at 1313. The evidence also showed that, from 1977 to 1996,
    
    no student had ever applied for an MTM transfer, and Appellants had not made any
    
    
    
                                             28
    effort to publicize or market the MTM program. See id. at 1314; Manning, 28
    
    F.Supp.2d at 1359.
    
           While faulting Appellants on the MTM program, the district judge
    
    acknowledged that the July 1971 Order “did not specifically direct [Appellants] to
    
    market the [MTM] program.” Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1314. Furthermore, the
    
    district judge noted (and did not dispute) that no member of the Bi-Racial Committee
    
    and no representative of Appellees had complained, prior to the mid-1990's, about the
    
    non-availability of an MTM program. See id. at 1313 (quoting testimony of Dr.
    
    Miliziano). The district judge also found that when Appellees did raise the lack of an
    
    effective MTM program, Appellants announced the program “to the [school] district
    
    as a whole and . . . took action to publish information about the program.” Id. at 1312.
    
           Although the district judge stated that an MTM program is an “indispensable
    
    remedy” and a “useful part of every desegregation plan,”22 id. at 1314, the district
    
    judge did not explain why this particular MTM program was needed to desegregate
    
    the Hillsborough County school district. In fact, as previously mentioned, Dr. Stevens
    
    — Appellees’ expert who was involved in the negotiations that led to the 1991
    
    Consent Order — conceded that an MTM program would not significantly impact the
    
           22
              The district judge lifted this language from the Supreme Court’s opinion in Swann,
    402 U.S. at 26-27, 91 S. Ct. at 1281. In the very same opinion, however, the Supreme Court
    warned that “[n]o per se rule can adequately embrace all the difficulties of reconciling the
    competing interests involved [in desegregating schools].” Id. at 26, 91 S. Ct. at 1281.
    
                                                  29
    race ratios at the schools Appellees were challenging as racially imbalanced.
    
    Furthermore, the Task Force Report and the 1991 Consent Order (both of which were
    
    approved by the district judge) failed to even mention the MTM program. Lastly,
    
    notwithstanding the criticism of the MTM program, the district judge spoke favorably
    
    of Appellants’ overall desegregation efforts. See, e.g., id. at 1287 (stating that
    
    “[u]ndoubtedly, [Appellants’] desegregation efforts demonstrate significant success”);
    
     id. at 1311 (stating Appellants “deserve acknowledgment for their desegregation
    
    efforts thus far”); id. at 1312 (noting Appellants “have been relatively successful in
    
    implementing desegregation techniques”); id. at 1325 (finding Appellants had acted
    
    in good faith with respect to faculty desegregation and commending Appellants for
    
    taking recommendations from the Minority Recruitment Task Force).
    
                                          II. DISCUSSION
    
    A. Standard of Review
    
           Where the relief sought in the district court is the dissolution of an injunction,
    
    the order of the district court is subject to a mixed standard of review.23 We review
    
    
           23
               We raised sua sponte whether appellate jurisdiction existed in this case and requested
    briefs from the parties. Since this is an appeal of an interlocutory order of the district court
    refusing to dissolve an injunction, we do possess jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1). We
    also raised sua sponte whether the notice of appeal was timely filed. Appellants timely filed in
    the district court a motion to alter or amend judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). As such,
    Appellants could file their appeal until 30 days after the district court ruled on the Rule 59(e)
    motion. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(4)(iv). Since the Appellants complied with this time limit, we
    conclude Appellants timely filed their notice of appeal. Thus, we may hear this appeal.
    
                                                   30
    for abuse of discretion the failure to dissolve an injunction as required by law. See
    
    Wilson v. Minor, 
    220 F.3d 1297
    , 1301 (11th Cir. 2000). The district court’s
    
    application of law is subject to de novo review, while its findings of fact are subject
    
    to a clearly erroneous standard of review under Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a). See Sierra Club
    
    v. Martin, 
    110 F.3d 1551
    , 1554 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting SunAmerica Corp. v. Sun
    
    Life Assurance Co. of Can., 
    77 F.3d 1325
    , 1333) (11th Cir. 1996)). A declaration of
    
    a school system’s unitary status is a finding of fact and thus falls under the clearly
    
    erroneous standard of Rule 52(a). See Lockett v. Bd. of Educ. of Muscogee County
    
    Sch. Dist., 
    111 F.3d 839
    , 841-42 (11th Cir. 1997) (Lockett II); Jacksonville Branch,
    
    NAACP v. Duval County Sch. Bd., 
    883 F.2d 945
    , 952 n.3 (11th Cir. 1989). Under this
    
    standard of review, “[w]here there are two permissible views of the evidence, the
    
    [district court]’s choice between them cannot be clearly erroneous.” Lockett II, 111
    
    F.3d at 842; accord Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, 
    470 U.S. 564
    , 574, 
    105 S. Ct. 1504
    , 1511 (1985). But where a district court applies an incorrect legal standard
    
    which “taints” or “infects” its findings of facts, such findings “lose the insulation of
    
    [Rule] 52(a) and judgment based thereon cannot stand.” Corley v. Jackson Police
    
    Dept., 
    566 F.2d 994
    , 1001 (5th Cir. 1978) (internal quotations and citation omitted);24
    
    
           24
               In Bonner v. City of Prichard, 
    661 F.2d 1206
    , 1209 (11th Cir. 1981) (en banc), this
    Court adopted as binding precedent all decisions of the former Fifth Circuit handed down prior
    to the close of business on September 30, 1981.
    
                                                  31
    accord Bigge v. Albertsons, Inc., 
    894 F.2d 1497
    , 1502-03 (11th Cir. 1990); Harris v.
    
    Birmingham Bd. of Educ., 
    712 F.2d 1377
    , 1381 (11th Cir. 1983); Lincoln v. Bd. of
    
    Regents of Univ. Sys. of Ga., 
    697 F.2d 928
    , 938-39 (11th Cir. 1983); see also Solomon
    
    v. Liberty County Comm’rs, 
    221 F.3d 1218
    , 1227 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (stating
    
    “Rule 52(a) does not inhibit an appellate court’s power to correct errors of law”).
    
    B. Analysis
    
          1. General Principles
    
          Before analyzing the case before us, it is important to recall some general
    
    principles. In Brown I, the Supreme Court held that de jure racial segregation
    
    practiced by school districts violates the Fourteenth Amendment. See Lockett II, 111
    
    F.3d at 842 (citing Brown I, 347 U.S. at 495, 74 S. Ct. at 692). To remedy the illegal
    
    conduct, the Supreme Court ordered federal district courts to supervise local officials
    
    in desegregating school systems. See id. (citing Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 
    349 U.S. 294
    ,
    
    301, 
    75 S. Ct. 753
    , 757 (1955) (Brown II)). Federal judicial supervision of local
    
    officials, however, was intended to be a temporary measure. See id. (citing Bd. of
    
    Educ. v. Dowell, 
    498 U.S. 237
    , 247, 
    111 S. Ct. 630
    , 637 (1991)).
    
          A desegregation order is remedial in nature, for it is the means by which victims
    
    of discriminatory conduct are restored to the position they would have occupied in the
    
    absence of such conduct. See Missouri v. Jenkins, 
    515 U.S. 70
    , 87, 
    115 S. Ct. 2038
    ,
    
    
                                              32
    2048 (1995) (citing Milliken v. Bradley, 
    418 U.S. 717
    , 746-47, 
    94 S. Ct. 3112
    , 3128
    
    (1974)). The purpose of federal supervision is not to maintain a desired racial mix at
    
    a school. See Pasadena City Bd. of Educ. v. Spangler, 
    427 U.S. 424
    , 434-37, 96 S.
    
    Ct. 2697, 2704-05 (1976); see also Freeman v. Pitts, 
    503 U.S. 467
    , 494, 
    112 S. Ct. 1430
    , 1447 (1992) (noting that “[r]acial balance is not to be achieved for its own
    
    sake”). Rather, a federal court may insist upon a racially balanced school only in
    
    those situations where a constitutional violation has caused the school to become
    
    racially imbalanced. See id. at 494, 112 S. Ct. at 1447. As the Supreme Court
    
    instructed 30 years ago, “[I]n the absence of a showing that either the school
    
    authorities or some other agency of the State has deliberately attempted to fix or alter
    
    demographic patterns to affect the racial composition of the schools, further
    
    intervention by a district court should not be necessary.” Swann, 402 U.S. at 31-32,
    
    91 S. Ct. at 1283-83. Put simply, a school board has no obligation to remedy racial
    
    imbalances caused by external factors, such as demographic shifts, which are not the
    
    result of segregation and are beyond the board’s control. See Jenkins, 515 U.S. at 102,
    
    115 S. Ct. at 2055-56 (citing Spangler, 427 U.S. at 434, 96 S. Ct. at 2703-04; Swann,
    
    402 U.S. at 22, 91 S. Ct. at 1279).
    
          The ultimate objective of any desegregation order is the “restoration of state and
    
    local authorities to the control of a school system that is operating in compliance with
    
    
                                              33
    the Constitution.”25 Id. at 89, 115 S. Ct. at 2049 (internal quotations and citation
    
    omitted). To guide district courts in assessing when it is appropriate to restore local
    
    control, the concept of a “unitary” school system has evolved in federal jurisprudence.
    
    See generally Freeman, 503 U.S. at 485-92, 112 S. Ct. at 1443-46 (1992). In
    
    evaluating whether a school system is “unitary,” a district court must carefully assess
    
    the facts and utilize its sound discretion to determine (1) whether local authorities
    
    have eliminated the vestiges of past discrimination to the extent practicable, and (2)
    
    whether local authorities have in good faith fully and satisfactorily complied with, and
    
    shown a commitment to, the desegregation plan. See Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 842
    
    (quoting Lee v. Etowah County Bd. of Educ., 
    963 F.2d 1416
    , 1425 (11th Cir. 1992)
    
    (citing Dowell, 498 U.S. at 249-50, 111 S. Ct. at 638)). For a district court to
    
    determine whether the vestiges of discrimination have been eliminated to the extent
    
    
    
           25
              Local control is complementary, not contradictory, to the goal of eradicating illegal
    discrimination from our nation’s schools. The Supreme Court has spoken to this principle:
           Returning schools to the control of local authorities at the earliest practicable date
           is essential to restore their true accountability in our governmental system. When
           the school district and all state entities participating with it in operating the
           schools make decisions in the absence of judicial supervision, they can be held
           accountable to the citizenry, to the political process, and to the courts in the
           ordinary course. . . . [I]t must be acknowledged that the potential for
           discrimination and racial hostility is still present in our country, and its
           manifestations may emerge in new and subtle forms after the effects of de jure
           segregation have been eliminated. It is the duty of the State and its subdivisions
           to ensure that such forces do not shape or control the policies of its school
           systems. Where control lies, so too does responsibility.
    Freeman, 503 U.S. at 490, 112 S. Ct. at 1445.
    
                                                    34
    practicable, it must examine the six facets of school operation, the so-called Green
    
    factors: student assignments, faculty assignments, staff assignments, transportation,
    
    extra-curricular activities, and facilities. See id. (citing Dowell, 498 U.S. at 245, 111
    
    S. Ct. at 636 (quoting Green, 391 U.S. at 435, 88 S. Ct. at 1693)). Using its
    
    discretion, a court may also consider other facets. See id. (citing Freeman, 503 U.S.
    
    at 492, 112 S. Ct. at 1446).
    
            It is not uncommon for plaintiffs in school desegregation cases to allege, as
    
    Appellees did here, that racial imbalances in student assignments, are a “vestige of
    
    discrimination.” Until unitary status is attained, the defendant school board has the
    
    burden of showing that any racial imbalance in the school system is not traceable, in
    
    a proximate way, to the prior de jure segregation. See Freeman, 503 U.S. at 494, 112
    
    S. Ct. at 1447. Stated differently, once a plaintiff shows de jure segregation (as
    
    Appellees did here in 1962, see supra Part I.A), a presumption arises that all racial
    
    imbalances in a school district are the result of the de jure segregation. See Keyes v.
    
    Sch. Dist. No. 1, Denver, Colo., 
    413 U.S. 189
    , 208, 
    93 S. Ct. 2688
    , 2697 (1973). To
    
    rebut this presumption, “a school board must prove that the imbalances are not the
    
    result of present or past discrimination on its part.” Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 843 (citing
    
    Swann, 402 U.S. at 25, 91 S. Ct. at 1281); accord Keyes, 413 U.S. at 211; 93 S. Ct. at
    
    2699.
    
    
                                               35
           2. District Court’s Reliance on Lockett I
    
                   a. Wrong Legal Standard
    
           With the foregoing principles and standards in mind, we turn to the case before
    
    us. Appellants argue, inter alia,26 that the district court committed reversible error by
    
    relying upon our opinion in Lockett v. Board of Education of Muscogee County, 
    92 F.3d 1092
     (11th Cir. 1996) (Lockett I).27 In Lockett I, a panel of this Court reversed
    
    a district court’s finding of unitary status and ordered the district court to “retain
    
    jurisdiction . . . to monitor the progress of the school district’s desegregation efforts”
    
    until the school district could show that it “ha[d] desegregated its schools to the
    
    maximum extent practicable.”             Id. at 1101 (emphasis added).              Lockett I was
    
    subsequently vacated by the same panel. See Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 840-45.
    
           26
              We need not address every argument advanced by Appellants with which we agree.
    We pause, however, to highlight Appellants’ contention that the district court must provide them
    with a “precise statement” of their obligations under a consent decree. See, e.g., Jenkins, 515
    U.S. at 101, 115 S. Ct. at 2055. The district judge avoided this requirement and held that she
    would not “tell [Appellants] which specific means to employ” for achieving unitary status.
    Manning, 28 F.Supp.2d at 1360; see also id. at 1355 (refusing to describe “specific action” for
    Appellants to take). Even if we were to hold that Appellants’ school district was not unitary, we
    would nonetheless remand this case with instructions that the district court provide specific
    guidance on what steps Appellants must take to achieve unitary status. But since we conclude
    the school district is unitary, see infra Part III, there is no need for the district judge to issue a
    statement, precise or otherwise, on Appellants’ obligations.
           27
               The district judge was aware that Lockett I had been superseded by Lockett II, but she
    justified her reliance on Lockett I upon the belief that “Lockett I reiterated established principles
    of law.” Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1311. District judges in this circuit, however, are required
    to adhere to the decisions of this Court and the Supreme Court. See Fishman & Tobin, Inc. v.
    Tropical Shipping & Constr. Co., ___ F.3d ___, Slip Op. No. 99-4375, at 1299 n.14 (11th Cir.
    2001).
    
                                                      36
           The district judge, in relying on Lockett I, applied the wrong legal standard.
    
    The law does not require, as stated in Lockett I, that a school board eliminate the
    
    vestiges of past discrimination “to the maximum extent practicable.” 92 F.3d at 1101
    
    (emphasis added).         Rather, the law merely requires that the vestiges of past
    
    discrimination be eliminated “to the extent practicable.” Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 842
    
    (emphasis added); accord Jenkins, 515 U.S. at 90, 115 S. Ct. at 2050;28 Freeman, 503
    
    U.S. at 492, 112 S. Ct. at 1446; Dowell, 498 U.S. at 250, 111 S. Ct. at 638; United
    
    States v. Georgia, 
    171 F.3d 1344
    , 1347 (11th Cir. 1999); Lee, 963 F.2d at 1425. The
    
    district judge incorrectly referred to the “maximum extent practicable (or possible)”
    
    standard at least 12 times in her opinion of October 24, 1998, and four times in her
    
    order of December 4, 1998. See Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1287, 1289, 1290, 1292,
    
    1293, 1301, 1312, 1326, 1334, 1335; Manning, 28 F.Supp.2d at 1356, 1359, 1360.
    
           Accordingly, the critical issue is whether the district judge’s repeated use of the
    
    wrong legal standard sufficiently tainted or infected the findings of fact so as to strip
    
    those findings of the insulation normally accorded under Rule 52(a). See supra Part
    
    II.A; Corley, 566 F.2d at 1001. We would not permit an inadvertent use of language
    
    
           28
               The district court in Jenkins stated that its goal was to integrate the school district to
    the “maximum extent practicable” and to the “maximum potential.” 515 U.S. at 81, 101, 115
    S. Ct. at 2045, 2055. The Supreme Court expressly rejected this test and held that the proper test
    was whether the deficiencies “attributable to prior de jure segregation had been remedied to the
    extent practicable.” Id. at 101, 115 S. Ct. at 2055.
    
                                                     37
    by a district court to constitute reversible error. Here, however, we are persuaded that
    
    the district judge’s mistake is more than mere inadvertence.29 As we discuss
    
    immediately below, the district judge’s findings on student assignments and good faith
    
    were tainted (and thus stripped of Rule 52(a) protection) because the district judge
    
    held Appellants to a higher standard than the law requires.
    
                   b.     Application of Wrong Legal Standard to Finding on Student
                          Assignments
    
           In Lockett, the critical issue was, as it is here, whether the racial imbalances in
    
    student assignments precluded a finding of unitary status. See Lockett II, 111 F.3d at
    
    842, 843. Lockett II held that, for a school board to rebut the presumption of de jure
    
    segregation, the school board had to prove “the [racial] imbalances [were] not the
    
    result of present or past discrimination on its part.” Id. at 843; see also supra Part
    
    II.B.1.     The district court in Lockett II found the school board rebutted the
    
    presumption by presenting expert demographic evidence showing the imbalances to
    
    be the result of voluntary housing patterns and demographic change. See id. The
    
    school board’s demographic evidence was not contradicted by plaintiffs’ experts. See
    
    
    
    
           29
               The phrase “to the extent practicable” is not meaningless surplusage. As the Third
    Circuit has noted, “[T]he phrase ‘to the extent practicable’ implies a reasonable limit on the
    duration of [the] federal supervision” because “extend[ing] federal court supervision indefinitely
    is neither practicable, desirable, nor proper.” Coalition to Save our Children v. State Bd. of
    Educ. of Del., 
    90 F.3d 752
    , 760 (3d Cir. 1996).
    
                                                   38
    id. The Lockett II majority affirmed the district court’s finding as not being clearly
    
    erroneous. See id. at 844.
    
           By contrast, Lockett I staked out a position on the law under which school
    
    boards would have been held to a higher standard. Instead of affirming, the Lockett I
    
    panel would have remanded, so the district court could have continued supervising the
    
    school board “until such time as a reliable body of data exist[ed] to assure . . . that the
    
    school district ha[d] desegregated its schools to the maximum extent practicable.”
    
    Lockett I, 92 F.3d at 1101 (emphasis added); accord Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 844
    
    (Barkett, J. dissenting). Under Lockett I, a school board would have been required to
    
    remedy racial imbalances even when “the imbalances [were] caused by circumstances
    
    over which the school district has no control.” Lockett I, 92 F.2d at 1099 (quoted in
    
    Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1310). Moreover, according to Lockett I, to be declared
    
    unitary, it is not enough for a school board to show demographic shifts as the cause
    
    of the racial imbalances, as “demographic shifts are not necessarily independent of
    
    prior unconstitutional practices.”30 Id. at 1099 (cited in Manning, 28 F.Supp.2d at
    
    1359).
    
    
           30
               Judge Barkett, the author of Lockett I, further elaborated on this view in her Lockett II
    dissent. In particular, Judge Barkett wrote that it was erroneous to “assume[] that as long as a
    school district can point to some force not directly related to a school district’s overt actions
    which is causing or exacerbating racial imbalances, then the resulting imbalance is not traceable
    to past practices.” Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 845 (Barkett, J. dissenting).
    
                                                     39
          Lockett I, however, is not the law of this circuit. Rather, the law of the circuit
    
    must be distilled from Lockett II. We reiterate that, to overcome the presumption that
    
    racial imbalances are constitutionally violative, “a school board must prove that the
    
    imbalances are not the result of present or past discrimination on its part.” Lockett II,
    
    111 F.3d at 843. Lockett II stands for the proposition that a school board overcomes
    
    this presumption when it shows that some external force, which is not the result of
    
    segregation and is beyond the school board’s control, substantially caused the racial
    
    imbalances. See id. (upholding declaration of unitary status when district court found
    
    demographic shifts caused racial imbalances); see also Jenkins, 515 U.S. at 102, 115
    
    S. Ct. at 2055-56; contra Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 845 (Barkett, J. dissenting)
    
    (advocating contrary proposition). Where a defendant school board shows that
    
    demographic shifts are a substantial cause of the racial imbalances, the defendant has
    
    overcome the presumption of de jure segregation. See Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 843.
    
    Courts shall not assume that demographic shifts are a result of the past de jure
    
    segregation. Contra Lockett I, 92 F.3d at 1099 (advocating contrary proposition);
    
    Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 845 (Barkett, J. dissenting) (same). Such an assumption is
    
    improper because “[i]t is simply not always the case that demographic forces causing
    
    population change bear any real and substantial relation to a de jure violation, and the
    
    
    
    
                                               40
    law need not proceed on that premise.”31 Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 843 (internal
    
    alterations omitted) (quoting Freeman, 503 U.S. at 496, 112 S. Ct. at 1448). Lastly,
    
    a plaintiff does not undermine the strength of a defendant’s demographic evidence by
    
    merely asserting that demographics alone do not explain the racial imbalances.32
    
    Rather, for a plaintiff to preserve the presumption of de jure segregation, the plaintiff
    
    must show that the demographic shifts are the result of the prior de jure segregation
    
    or some other discriminatory conduct.
    
           If the district judge had applied Lockett II, rather than Lockett I, her findings of
    
    fact would have led her to the same conclusion as the magistrate judge with respect
    
    to student assignments. The district judge, like the magistrate judge, found that
    
    demographic shifts were a “substantial” or “significant” reason for the racial
    
    imbalances and that the racial imbalances were inevitable, irrespective of Appellants’
    
    efforts. See supra Part I.B.3.a; Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1303, 1311; Manning, 28
    
    F.Supp.2d at 1356. With this finding of fact, Appellants overcame the presumption
    
    that the racial imbalances in student assignments were the result of de jure
    
    
    
           31
                In addition, “[a]s the de jure violation becomes more remote in time and . . .
    demographic changes intervene, it becomes less likely that a current racial imbalance in a school
    district is a vestige of the prior de jure system.” Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 843 (quoting Freeman,
    503 U.S. at 496, 112 S. Ct. at 1448) (internal alterations included).
           32
                It is elementary that one may not rebut extensive evidence with a scintilla of evidence.
    See, e.g., 2 McCormick on Evidence § 338, at 416 (John W. Strong et al. eds., 5th ed. 1999).
    
                                                     41
    segregation. To preserve the presumption, Appellees were required to show that the
    
    demographic shifts were the result of the past segregative practices or some other
    
    discriminatory conduct. Appellees made no such showing. The district judge never
    
    found that the racial imbalances at the 17 challenged schools were caused by the past
    
    de jure segregation or other discriminatory acts. In fact, the district judge found the
    
    exact opposite. That is, the district judge found that Appellants did not deliberately
    
    cause the racial imbalances through segregative policies or practices. See supra Part
    
    I.B.3.a; Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1310. Appellees merely persuaded the district
    
    judge that demographics alone did not account for the racial imbalances. See id. at
    
    1302 (refusing to find that a “shift in demography [was] the sole cause [of] the [racial]
    
    imbalance[s]” in the school system). Such a finding is insufficient to deny Appellants
    
    a declaration of unitary status.
    
          Accordingly, by applying the correct legal standard from Lockett II to the
    
    district judge’s findings of fact, we reach the same conclusion as the magistrate judge:
    
    Appellants have achieved unitary status with respect to student assignments.
    
                 c. Application of Wrong Legal Standard to Finding on Good Faith
    
          As discussed previously, the district judge had two interrelated areas of concern
    
    which precluded, in her view, a finding of good faith: Appellants’ apathy and the lack
    
    of an effective MTM program. See supra Part I.B.3.b. The district judge’s reliance
    
    
                                               42
    on Lockett I undoubtedly infected her finding with regard to Appellants’ alleged
    
    apathy. The district judge, as noted above, expected Appellants to “desegregate the
    
    public schools in Hillsborough County to the maximum extent practicable.” E.g.,
    
    Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1287; supra Part I.B.3.b. Such an expectation was
    
    erroneous, for the law does not require a defendant school board to take every
    
    conceivable step in attempting to desegregate. See, e.g., Freeman, 503 U.S. at 493,
    
    112 S. Ct. at 1447 (expressly rejecting premise that “heroic measures must be taken
    
    to ensure racial balance”). Thus, the district judge’s concern about Appellants’
    
    alleged “apathy” was an error of law directly traceable to her reliance upon Lockett
    
    I.
    
          Further, Appellants’ lack of an effective MTM program does not necessarily
    
    amount to a finding of bad faith. For instance, in Lockett, the school board did not
    
    implement its MTM program until years after the desegregation decree was entered
    
    and ignored other requirements of the desegregation decree. See Lockett II, 111 F.3d
    
    at 844; Lockett I, 92 F.3d at 1100, 1101. Nonetheless, we affirmed a finding of good
    
    faith based in part on the district court’s finding that the school board had never
    
    violated a court order, had never been enjoined or sanctioned, and had consulted with
    
    African-American members of community before modifying the student assignment
    
    plan. See Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 843-44; contra Lockett I, 92 F.3d at 1100, 1101.
    
    
                                             43
    Likewise, in the case sub judice, Appellants never violated a court order, never were
    
    sanctioned, In and consulted extensively with the African-American community,
    
    including Appellees, prior to implementing new student assignments under the 1991
    
    Task Force Report. See supra Parts I.B.2 & I.B.3.b. Therefore, based on Lockett II,
    
    the district judge clearly could have found the Appellants acted in good faith,
    
    notwithstanding the lack of a viable MTM program.
    
           Additionally, we are persuaded that, if the district judge had followed the law
    
    as set forth in Lockett II, she would have concluded that Appellants have acted in good
    
    faith. As we explained in Lockett II, in determining whether a school board has acted
    
    in good faith, a court should not dwell on isolated discrepancies, but rather should
    
    “consider whether the school board’s policies form a consistent pattern of lawful
    
    conduct directed to eliminating earlier violations.”33 Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 843
    
    (internal quotations omitted); see also Freeman, 503 U.S. at 491, 112 S. Ct. at 1446
    
    (holding that “a court should give particular attention to the school system’s record
    
    of compliance”). Repeatedly in the October 26, 1998, opinion, the district judge
    
    commended Appellants for their desegregation efforts. See, e.g., Manning, 24
    
    
           33
               The focus is on the school board’s pattern of conduct, and not isolated events, because
    the purpose of the good-faith finding is to ensure that a school board has accepted racial equality
    and will abstain from intentional discrimination in the future. See Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 843
    (citing Freeman, 503 U.S. at 498, 112 S. Ct. at 1449). Focusing on isolated aberrations blurs a
    court’s long-term vision.
    
                                                    44
    F.Supp.2d at 1287, 1311, 1312, 1325; supra Part I.B.3.b. At the end of the opinion,
    
    the district judge further commented:
    
           After evaluating the voluminous record in this case, the Court is
           convinced that [Appellants] have a short road to travel [to attain unitary
           status]. Essentially, Defendants need to demonstrate that they are willing
           to aggressively desegregate the school district to the maximum extent
           practicable.34
    
    Manning, 24 F.Supp.2d at 1335. Based on the foregoing statement, we are convinced
    
    that, if the district judge had applied the correct standard, she would have found (as
    
    the magistrate judge did) that Appellants acted in good faith, notwithstanding the
    
    absence of an effective MTM program and other possible discrepancies.
    
           Our conclusion is buttressed by two other points. First, the MTM program, as
    
    conceded by Appellees’ expert, would have been ineffective in desegregating the 17
    
    challenged schools.35 As such, the MTM program should have had only marginal
    
    relevance in analyzing whether Appellants’ “policies form[ed] a consistent pattern of
    
    lawful conduct directed to eliminating earlier violations.” Lockett II, 111 F.3d at 843
    
    (emphasis added) (internal quotations and citation omitted).
    
    
    
           34
               In contrast to the district judge, the magistrate judge recognized that “[a] school
    board’s affirmative duty to desegregate does not require adoption of the most desegregative
    alternative available.”
           35
              We are by no means suggesting that a desegregation plan cannot, or should not,
    include an MTM program. The Supreme Court has spoken favorably of MTM programs. See
    Swann, 402 U.S. at 26-27, 91 S. Ct. at 1281.
    
                                                    45
           Second, discerning a school board’s good faith is in some respects a subjective
    
    finding. Thus, such a finding depends in part on the judge’s personal observation of
    
    the witnesses. The magistrate judge, not the district judge, observed all of the
    
    witnesses at the evidentiary hearing. Granted, the district judge was free under 28
    
    U.S.C. § 636 to make a de novo determination of the magistrate judge’s findings. In
    
    other contexts, however, we have cautioned district judges from overruling a
    
    magistrate judge’s finding where credibility determinations are dispositive. See, e.g.,
    
    Proffitt v. Wainwright, 
    685 F.2d 1227
    , 1237 (11th Cir. 1982) (noting that, in criminal
    
    or habeas corpus cases, a district judge’s reasons for rejecting a report and
    
    recommendation must be consistent with the credibility choices made by a
    
    magistrate). In addition, the rationale for deferring to a district court’s finding of fact
    
    is that a trial judge is aware of the variations in demeanor which bear so heavily in
    
    making a subjective determination. See Anderson, 470 U.S. at 575, 105 S. Ct. at 1512.
    
    Where, as here, a district judge does not personally observe the witnesses in making
    
    a subjective finding of fact, we view such a finding with skepticism, especially where,
    
    as here, the finding is contrary to the one recommended by the judicial official who
    
    observed the witnesses.
    
    
    
    
                                                46
                                    III. CONCLUSION
    
          The district judge’s finding that Appellants have not achieved unitary status was
    
    tainted and infected by reliance on an incorrect legal standard. As such, we reverse
    
    the district judge’s orders of October 26, 1998, and December 4, 1998. Upon remand,
    
    the district court shall enter judgment declaring the Hillsborough County school
    
    system unitary. Therefore, federal judicial supervision of the Hillsborough County
    
    school system shall cease.
    
          REVERSED and REMANDED.
    
    
    
    
                                             47