Louisiana School District to Further Desegregation

     RUSTON, La. (CN) – A Louisiana school board has agreed to revise its classroom assignment process to alleviate the federal government’s concern that some of its facilities remain segregated decades after the district was ordered to address the issue.
     The agreement approved by U.S. District Judge Robert James on May 29, expands upon earlier consent decrees entered into by the Lincoln Parish School District and the U.S. Justice Department, focusing on the racial composition of classrooms in four elementary schools.
     The federal government originally sued to desegregate the Lincoln Parish schools on June 8, 1966. Since then, the district has taken several dramatic steps to bring its practices in line with federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
     A May 24, 2012, consent order dismissed the case against the board in the areas of faculty assignment, staff assignment, facilities, transportation and extracurricular activities, and sought to address outstanding issues related to student assignment issues.
     At that time, the school board agreed to reconfigure the grade levels and attendance zones of the district’s four elementary schools. and established a revised student transfer policy so as not to impede desegregation.
     However despite these efforts, the Justice Department found that significant disparities were still present in the composition of home room classes at the four elementary schools.
     In response to an October 2013 Justice Department letter outlining the agency’s concerns, the board said it had been grouping students according to their ability, and that the practice was one of longstanding and was not legally prohibited.
     The government disagreed, and the board said it would discontinue the practice. Despite this, an analysis by the Justice Department during the 2014-2015 school year found ongoing issues with the racial makeup of the home room classes.
     Under the consent order, the school board will implement a series of changes at all four elementary schools, including the assignation of students to classrooms so that the percentage of black and white students in each classroom reflects the percentage of black and white students at the school.
     The school board will refrain from grouping students in classrooms according to the students’ perceived abilities and ensure that students of all academic levels are assigned to each classroom.
     Classrooms won’t have more than forty percent special education students, and under the consent order, if the schools choose to continue their gifted programs, they must do so in a way meant to develop the gifts and talents of all students.
     “We commend the Lincoln Parish School Board’s commitment to resolve this case by addressing the racial isolation in its elementary school homerooms in Ruston,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice.
     “This consent order reinforces the Civil Rights Division’s steadfast commitment to ensuring that all students have access to equal educational opportunities, regardless of race or color,” Gupta said.
     Representatives of the school board declined to comment. Their attorney for the board, Robert Hammonds of Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice in Baton Rouge, La., could not be reached for comment.

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