Trouble brewing | Arkansas Blog

Trouble brewing

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The Democrat-Gazette reports this morning the suspension -- no doubt preparatory for firing -- of Karen DeJarnette, the Little Rock School District employee who has suggested higher administrators weren't accurately -- or honestly -- reporting on the district's  evaluation of programs aimed at closing racial gaps in test scores. This is the critical point in a coming federal court hearing aimed at loosing the district from the half-century-old desegregation litigation.

Her situation is part of our cover story this week. As is the racially tinged board-administration division in the district.

DeJarnette is in trouble, it seems, in part for communicating with John Walker, the lawyer who represents black parents in court. Walker aims to topple superintendent Roy Brooks and use majority support on the school board to achieve other plans. It will not be a happy day for the district should Walker achieve all these aims. It is also not a given that it will occur. He does not command a four-member majority at this point, despite the belief in the white community that the black majority is one-dimensional.

But the last thing those who oppose John Walker need to do is make this solely about him, as so many seem anxious to do. LRSD is a majority black district in enrollment and likely nearing it in population, since the district's boundaries don't match the city's. Contrary to what comfortable white businessmen with kids in private schools might think, the black community mostly believes Walker represents its interest. And he has every right, as much as any citizen, even more on account of his legal status, to inquire of public officials about their work product and to get honest answers from people like DeJarnette.

Attacking Walker -- temping though it often is -- will be interpreted as a broader offensive by the people who think he represents them. The district is at a crisis point.. It is there in part because the school board and administration granted significant deference -- secretly -- to the business elite. The disenfranchised spoke loudly at the last school election. Punishment of truth-tellers and demonizing of opponents will only further energize the forces evident in that election. It's time for full and fair fact-finding, diplomacy and efforts by all sides at consensus-building. Wishful thinking, I know.

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