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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed key aspects of the lower court’s decision in Little Rock School District v. Lorene Joshua.
This long-standing school desegregation case involves key educational equity issues, including: racial disparities in school discipline, student achievement, access to advanced placement and honors curriculum and inequities in school facilities within three Arkansas school districts, the Little Rock School District, the North Little Rock School District and the Pulaski County School District.
Each of these districts once illegally segregated students by race and were subjected to intra-district school desegregation orders. LDF represents the original beneficiaries of the case—the class of African-American students and parents now known as the “Joshua Intervenors”.
The case is perhaps best known for its link to the historic 1958 standoff in which then-Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus used National Guard troops to block the entrance of the African-American students known as the “Little Rock Nine” into then all-white Central High School.
In 1982, another dimension was added to the multi-district desegregation saga when the Little Rock School District, joined by the Joshua Intervenors, filed a new lawsuit charging that the collective practices of the Pulaski County School District, the North Little Rock School district and the State of Arkansas exacerbated racial segregation in Little Rock and Pulaski County.
Subsequently, the federal district court implemented an inter-district desegregation remedy requiring the State of Arkansas to remedy its discriminatory actions and consolidated this case with the three original intra-district desegregation lawsuits.
Recently, the lower court found for the Plaintiffs, denying motions by both the Pulaski County and North Little Rock school districts seeking to end the cases and terminate the active desegregation programs. The lower court noted both school districts’ failures to comply with their respective desegregation plans and the ongoing racial disparities in various key educational equity indicators in the school districts.
However, the lower court also took the unwarranted step of releasing the State of Arkansas from its obligation to provide over $70 million in funding per year for inter-district desegregation remedies. LDF, with long-standing co-counsel John Walker of Little Rock and Robert Pressman appealed to the Eighth Circuit to defend the intra-district desegregation process and reverse the district court’s termination of state funding for inter-district desegregation.
Today’s ruling granted nearly all of the relief that LDF sought on behalf of its clients. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling establishing the continuing need for desegregation and educational equity efforts in the Pulaski County School District and reversed the lower court’s termination of state funding. The Court, however, reversed the partial denial of unitary status to the North Little Rock School District.
“This ruling vindicates the ongoing pursuit of quality education for African-American students in Pulaski County, Arkansas,” said LDF cooperating attorney John Walker, who has litigated this case for over three decades.
LDF attorney Damon Hewitt, Director of LDF’s Education Practice Group, added, “Today’s opinion should send a clear message to school districts throughout the country that compliance with desegregation orders is not optional. Both the courts and communities will hold these districts to both the letter and spirit of the law.”
LDF’s work on this appeal and in its broader efforts in the area of education is focused on using racial and ethnic diversity as a tool to promote academic achievement and ensuring that African-American children have full and fair access to resources and opportunity, wherever they attend school nationwide.