- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A judge in one of the nation’s longest-running school desegregation cases released the Little Rock district from federal supervision yesterday, nearly 50 years after President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in troops to escort nine black students into all-white Central High.

U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr. said the district is substantially complying with a 1998 desegregation plan worked out in the 27,000-student district.

With blacks gaining a majority on the school board last September, the judge said he felt comfortable that the district would keep working to improve academic achievements among its 19,000 black students.

In 1957, despite a U.S. Supreme Court order, Gov. Orval Faubus tried to prevent black students from enrolling at Central High, setting off one of the biggest crises of the civil rights era. The president sent in the 101st Airborne to enforce the order.

“The district has been given back to the people of this community, and my pledge to them is to continue to work hard and recognize that we’re all going to have to work hard,” said Superintendent Roy Brooks, who is black. “I think that this is a clear indication that 1957 is not 2007.”

The 1998 desegregation plan was negotiated among the district, federal monitors and a group called the Joshua Intervenors, which represented black students. Judge Wilson noted that another nine years had passed before its conditions were satisfied.

“LRSD’s board can now operate the district as it sees fit; answerable to no one except LRSD’s students and patrons and the voters who elected [the board] to office,” he wrote. “I want to express my heartfelt best wishes as LRSD continues to operate, as our Founders intended, under control of the citizens of the City of Little Rock.”

A final sticking point among the parties had been whether the district adequately assessed black achievement in its academic programs.

“I am optimistic that the board will continue to ensure that the comprehensive program assessment progress remains a permanent part of [the school district’s] curriculum for as long as it takes to improve the academic achievement of African-American students,” Judge Wilson wrote.

Under previous orders from Judge Wilson, the Little Rock district was to evaluate its academic programs annually to determine whether test scores among black students were rising. The judge said yesterday he was now satisfied with the response, which included the board’s December resolution that it would continue evaluations even if Judge Wilson released it from monitoring.

The Little Rock district is now 70 percent black; Central High School is 53 percent black.

John Walker, a lawyer for the Joshua Intervenors, said black students would not be served by the ruling.

“We’re certainly disappointed in view of the lack of progress this district has made in addressing the needs of African-American students,” he said. “The standard was not high for the district to meet, but they certainly have not met it. We will have to pursue other means.”

In Little Rock, as is the case nationwide, black students on average score below their white classmates on standardized tests. The gap in Little Rock is as large as 40 points on both state and national standardized tests. Little Rock has seen some improvement.

Board member Michael Daugherty said the district must spend its money to close the achievement gap among students.

“I would have liked to have seen us a little bit farther along right now than where we are,” said Mr. Daugherty, who is black. “I think the district needs to be further along in the allocation of resources in the district.”

School board member Baker Kurrus, who is white, called Judge Wilson’s decision “a well-deserved endorsement.”

“We have to prove that we’re capable of managing our district and make sure that the mistakes of the past are never repeated,” Mr. Kurrus said. “We simply must reach all students in our district.”

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