by Max Brantley
The state Board of Education heard 13 appeals of school transfer denials under the new school choice law this morning and denied them all.
At the outset, the Board cited past involvement in desegregation fights in denying transfers from Forrest City to Palestine-Wheatley. Some Board members regretted their inability to approve the transfers, but said hands were tied by circumstances and that they were not empowered to override districts that choose to opt out of choice. Board members said the legislature could perhaps set more specific standards, based on performance of schools, to allow transfers.
Forrest City is majority black. Palestine-Wheatley is majority white.
UPDATE: Appeals also were denied for transfers from Forrest City to Wynne schools. There was a touch of irony in the denial of an appeal by a black family that pleaded for a transfer to Wynne because their rural home and a mother's job made Wynne far more convenient. Under the old school choice law, struck down by the court in a decision that led to the new law, the family COULD have made the transfer under the old law because it wouldn't have had an adverse impact on desegregation of the two districts. The family still can pursue an individual approval from the two school boards. Board member Sam Ledbetter urged the Forrest City board to work to find a means for the family to transfer.
UPDATE: The procedure continued with a Dollarway-White Hall transfer request, again denied on account of desegregation history.
UPDATE: A transfer from Hughes to Marionwas denied because Hughes had met the 3 percent cap on approved transfers. A parent who appealed complained she hadn't been given proof that the cap was reached. And Education Director Tom Kimbrell said the process remained murky because some of those given approval to transfer might not ultimately do so and thus theoretically open room for someone who'd been denied. This appeal was tabled for further information. Hughes confirmed by phone that it had approved the maximum number of transfers allowed, all to West Memphis. But it remained unclear whether all the transfers would occur and the board is uncertain on its obligations under the law relative to that.
UPDATE: Stephen Ezelle appealed denial of the transfer of his 14-year-old daughter from Hot Springs to the Lakeside School District. It was denied because the Ezelles are viewed as white and transferring from the higher minority Hot Springs district was prevented by a federal court order in a Hot Springs desegregation case. Ezelle claimed his family was of two or more races because of Latino ancestry. His appeal was denied.
UPDATE: Darlene Farmer appealed similarly from a denial to go as a Hot Springs resident to the Lakeside District. She's been private schooling her daughter and hoped to save that expense under the new school choice law. After denial, she also claimed that she was multiracial because of Norwegian and Cherokee heritage. She contended her transfer couldn't be viewed as impacting desegregation in Hot Springs because her child doesn't attend there now. The appeal was denied. Board member Diane Zook would have granted it.
Here's the full rundown from the state board on action today.