Court ends part of Arkansas desegregation lawsuit

August 21, 2014 - 7:04 PM
Little Rock Desegregation

FILE - This Sept. 10, 2012, file photo shows Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. A federal judge Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, ended a large part of an Arkansas desegregation case rooted in the Little Rock Central High School crisis of 1957. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal judge Thursday ended a large part of an Arkansas desegregation case rooted in the Little Rock Central High School crisis of 1957 but a lawyer for black schoolchildren said inequalities remain in the state's largest district.

U.S. District Judge D.P. Marshall Jr. signed an order that will halt payments the state of Arkansas has been making to three Little Rock-area districts to boost integration. The payments, which started in 1989 and have exceeded $1 billion, will end by June 30, 2018.

"Judge Marshall's order marks the formal end of a decades-long journey toward equality for Pulaski County public school students," Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in a statement. "With the settlement of this case, the State and the school districts in Pulaski County are working together for the benefit of our children, rather than standing as adversaries in the courtroom."

John Walker, a state representative who served as a lawyer for a group of schoolchildren known as the Joshua Intervenors, said he would expect that someone else will challenge perceived inequity in the 25,000-student Little Rock School District.

"It's institutional. It seems to be reinforced by the current superintendent and the current board," said Walker, who has frequently complained that schools in the city's western neighborhoods, which are predominantly white, benefit at the expense of students in other areas.

The Little Rock district is two-thirds black — about the same as in 1982 — but the city's population is 49 percent white, suggesting many white students are in private and charter schools around the city.

A lawyer for the Little Rock School District did not return a call seeking comment.

The Little Rock district sued the state and its neighboring districts in 1982, alleging state policies were still creating racial imbalance despite changes made since nine black teenagers needed federal troops to enter Little Rock Central nearly six decades ago.

To settle the lawsuit, the state of Arkansas agreed in 1989 to give the three districts extra money for magnet schools, busing and other integration programs. Payments now total nearly $66 million annually.

The Little Rock and North Little Rock districts had previously been declared essentially desegregated. In his order Thursday, Marshall dismissed them, plus the state, from the lawsuit.

He said the Pulaski County Special School District still needed to be monitored for its facilities, student achievement and disciplinary procedures. The judge also said he would retain jurisdiction over any new district created in the county. Jacksonville-area patrons are considering splitting from the Pulaski County district.