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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ark. School District Can Break Desegration Pact

ST. LOUIS (CN) - An Arkansas school district can break a desegregation agreement and move its middle school from a predominantly black area to a predominantly white area due to changing circumstances, a federal appeals court ruled.

In 1987, the majority white Palestine School District merged with the predominantly black Wheatley School District. Two years later, Wheatley families filed a lawsuit claiming that the school district failed to fully desegregate the schools. In 1990, a settlement was reached that included keeping a middle school in Wheatley.

In 2006, the school district petitioned for permission to move the Wheatley Middle School to the Palestine campus. Several families in Wheatley opposed the decision and a district court found against the school district, holding that the district failed in its proof.

In 2012, the school district once against petitioned to move the middle school to Palestine, effectively ending the school district's presence in the town of Wheatley. This time, the school district presented evidence of changed demographic and other financial circumstances that supported the move.

The Wheatley families appealed after a district court found in the school district's favor, but a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit upheld the district court's ruling.

"Here, the factors noted by the district court - dramatic demographic changes, significant cost savings, a projected decrease in enrollment, a risk of fiscal distress noted by the Arkansas Department of Education's Fiscal Distress Accountability and Reporting Unit, 'academic shortcomings' cited by the Department, and evidence that placing all grade levels on the same campus would likely improve the academic performance of middle school students - together with the court's finding 'that defendants have complied in good faith with the remainder of the requirements set forth in the consent decree,' were a sufficient basis for the court to conclude that the District had demonstrated the requisite 'significant change of circumstances,'" Judge James B. Loken wrote in a 12-page opinion.

Judges Diana E. Murphy and Steven M. Colloton concurred.

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