- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A federal judge has rejected a small school district’s request to block an Arkansas Board of Education’s order that dissolves the district into three nearby districts.

The Stephens School District had asked U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction that would stop the dismantling of the district until a full hearing can be held.

In an order, Hickey rejected the request for the injunction but said a full hearing would occur before this summer.

“At the outset, the Court would like to make it clear that a hearing on the merits of Stephens‘ claims will be conducted well before the effective consolidation date of July 1, 2014, and well before staff contracts expire on June 30, 2014,” Hickey wrote in an order dated Friday.

But Hickey also rejected the Stephens‘ district request to waive a deadline that required the school to notify its employees that their contracts would not be renewed for the 2014-2015 school year.

The Court finds that the non-renewal notices in this case do not pose a threat of irreparable harm to the Stephens School District,” the judge concluded. “These notices do not amount to the immediate termination of Stephens‘ staff members. Rather they simply inform staff that when their respective contracts expire - on June 30, 2014, in most, if not all cases - their contracts will not be renewed. Nothing in these notices will prevent staff contracts from being re-instated or renewed if this Court declines to approve the consolidation.”

The education board voted earlier this month to split the Stephens district among the Camden-Fairview, Magnolia and Nevada school districts because Stephens‘ enrollment fell below the state minimum of 350 students. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1mzCBTe ), Stephens had asked to be merged in its entirety with the Nevada district.

Clay Fendley, an attorney representing Stephens, said school leaders are pleased with the judge’s ruling that calls for a full hearing.

“We will comply with the court’s order and Arkansas Department of Education’s directive to send non-renewal letters to all personnel,” Fendley said.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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