It was 80's, and the problem for many of the white parents of Little Rock were all the black parents of Little Rock, and their kids. It was a lace-curtain concern that eventually caused a stampede that rivaled anything seen on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.
By the time reporter Mike Trimble looked into the subject of white flight in December 1987, the Little Rock School District had been mired in litigation over desegregation for five years, and under court supervision continuously since 1956. As a defendant in a lawsuit brought in 1982 by the Joshua intervenors, a group of black parents seeking equality for black students in Little Rock schools, the district eventually resorted to a complicated system of busing to try and regulate the racial mix. There were troubles from the start, especially with the portion of the plan called "controlled choice."
"The concept called for student - or their parents - to make their limited choices [of which school they wished to attend], and then for the district to either approve them or not, as dictated by racial attendance patterns," Trimble wrote. "Little Rock didn't do that. It made the assignments first, then allowed families to apply for transfers if they didn't like the assignments." Under this plan, computer-generated "geo-codes" assigned children who had gone to school together for their entire lives to schools on opposite ends of town. A similar computer-based plan to assign teachers to schools without racial bias was such a public relations and logistical nightmare that federal Judge Henry Woods, who had been overseeing the desegregation efforts, ordered it scrapped.
Many white parents, dissatisfied or disgusted with the plan and its authors, chose freeway therapy for their woes, rushing out of Little Rock to white flight boomtowns like Cabot and Bryant, jumping the city limits to send their kids to the North Little Rock or Pulaski County School Districts, or - for an elite few who could afford it - private schools. By the late 1980s, the hemorrhaging was enough that the Little Rock School District resorted to suing its co-defendants, the North Little Rock School District and the Pulaski County School District, to force them to consolidate. "The prize was white students," Trimble wrote. "Little Rock wanted them. North Little Rock and Pulaski County had them." In 1987, Judge Henry Woods ordered the three districts to merge, a ruling eventually overturned by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
You know the rest. Lawyers. Lawyer's fees. To make a long story short, litigation finally came to an end on March 2, 2004, when the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2002 order by U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson Jr. and released the LRSD from court supervision in all areas but one: monitoring efforts to improve black achievements. By that time, however, the vanilla-flavored flood of students out of Little Rock had long since ruined any chance at real racial balance. By 1987, the Little Rock School District was over 70 percent black. The good news, a miracle compared with results in some other urban school districts around the country, is that the percentage still stands at 70 percent today. Students are no longer bused for racial balance. They are bused only as a service to parents who choose, say, a faraway magnet school for their child to attend.