In 1997, parent William Capacchione sued Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools because he felt that his daughter had been discriminated against due to her race. He claimed that she was not assigned to Olde Providence Elementary, a magnet school, because she wasn’t black. Like a growing number of families, the Capacchiones had recently moved to Charlotte and didn’t experience the fight over busing in the early 1970s or the successful integration of the late 1970s and 1980s. In 1998, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Potter reactivated the Swann case, which Judge McMillan closed over 20 years before.
The court would decide whether Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools could be declared "unitary", meaning that they no longer operated two separate school systems for blacks and whites. Once the court declared the district’s unitary status, it was free from court monitoring and could assign students however it liked. Based on the experiences of schools across the country, once a school district was declared unitary it almost immediately and inevitably returned to neighborhood schools which were generally segregated by race.
In September of 1999, Judge Potter ruled that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were unitary, and that the student assignment plan for the 2000-01 school year could not be based on race. His ruling also forbade "allocating educational opportunities and benefits through race-based preferences", and critics of the ruling worried that would eliminate practices like paying experienced teachers more to work in poverty-stricken schools, which were often predominantly black. The black plaintiffs in the Swann case appealed the decision, and it was reviewed by a panel of three judges. The panel overturned Judge Potter’s ruling that the district was unitary and declared that race could still be a factor in school assignments.