by Max Brantley
Circuit Judge Jay Moody has issued his written order in the Paron school case. He's decreed that the school remain open, pending a" full and fair hearing" by the state Board of Education, rather than subsumed into Bryant High.. He did not permanently enjoin the closure.
It's a curious decision in some ways. For example: He held there was no evidence that time spent on the bus would be beneficial to students. Getting to a better high school with far more courses and activities is not beneficial?
And there was this curious statement:
There was evidence, however, that the Paron students would be required to spend significant amounts of time riding in the dark on the dangerous roads and that, in the winter time, they would see their houses in the daylight only on the weekends."
Is the standard now to be that a student must see his home during daylight? Are there other students in Arkansas who now run afoul of this standard? What, exactly, is the harm in that, by the way?
No matter. The state Education Department and legislature are going to have to spend some time on busing and set standards on whether curriculum, activities, teachers, labs and libraries are more important than rides and decree exactly how long is too long.
It would be interesting to have a student-by-student analysis of bus rides in Paron. Mathematically, it's unlikely EVERY child in the school has a four-hour ride. And it would also be interesting to see the rides they'd have to take if the district could be redrawn in the most sensible fashion to split the territory among neighboring school districts. That's the solution that SHOULD occur here.
We were interested too at the judge's finding of the school's "record of academic success." Paron's scores are more or less average and deficient in some testing areas according to state data. Furthermore, when the UA Department of Education Reform devised a School Performance Index for all schools in Arkansas, Paron didn't do so hot. The Index evaluated how well districts did after you took race, poverty and education of parents into account (all these factors are predictors of school "success".)
Paron High, in this Performance Index, scored far below average in math, below average in reading, above average on the end-of-course exam and -- overall -- below average statewide and below the index score of Bryant High School. Out of 1,116 schools in the state, Paron High ranked 741st in the index. (This was worse than several neighboring high schools that Paron students could attend, such as the much closer Joe T. Robinson in the Pulaski County District.) If this be "success," I'd hate to see failure.