LRSD Board President Dianne Curry speaks to the press.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld District Judge Bill Wilson's finding that the Little Rock School District had attained so-called unitary status. Absent a reversal by the full 8th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court, this would end a half-century of Little Rock school desegregation litigation. Under the ruling, the School Board is free to run the schools without court supervision.
The end of court supervision will hasten further state disentanglement from financial obligations to the school districts in Pulaski County. Much development of this story and issue to be done yet.
You'll note one judge on the three-judge panel concurred, but somewhat reluctantly.
Civil rights lawyer John Walker, acting on behalf of black residents of the district, had appealed Judge Wilson's finding. He argued that the district hadn't fully complied with the requirement to assess programs aimed at correcting education inequality in the district. The 8th Circuit agreed with Wilson that the district had substantially complied.
Chances of a successful appeal? "Almost nil," says LRSD attorney Chris Heller. Why? This case is no longer a constitutional case, but, as the 8th Circuit called it once, a "contract case" on compliance with terms of an agreement. There'd be no constitutional issue for the Supreme Court to resolve. Plus, given the current School Board's focus on achievement gaps, it's hard to believe a court would find that more work could be done on this under court supervision.
No immediate impact on state funding. For the state's obligations to be ended, all three Pulaski school districts must attain unitary status. Both Pulaski County and North Little Rock have petitioned for such a finding. Judge Wilson has scheduled a conference this afternoon that likely will begin to fast-track scheduling of hearings on those petitions.
UPDATE: Bad guess on Judge Wilson's conference. He announced to parties that he was stepping down from the case. I've been told he didn't give a reason. But he's preparing to take senior status, a form of retirement, and other judges have relinquished the case after long years of supervision. Here's his recusal order. He noted his seven years on the case and also thanked Andree Roaf for her work as the court's desegregation monitor.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel also commented:
This decision will also have an impact on the state desegregation funding provided to the LRSD. It is difficult to say exactly what that impact will be at this time. However, the State’s position that it is now appropriate to eliminate, or wind down, that funding is substantially strengthened by the Eighth Circuit decision. In the coming days and weeks, the Attorney General will consult with the Governor, members of the Legislature and the Arkansas Department of Education regarding the impact of this ruling on the state desegregation funding and how to proceed with ending the approximately $60,000,000 paid annually by the taxpayers of Arkansas.