- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Six Garland County school districts are seeking to end a 22-year-old consent decree that restricts student transfers based on race.

Steve Anderson, superintendent of the Lake Hamilton School District, said, because of the consent decree, his district and the Mountain Pine district had to deny three black students’ request to transfer from Lake Hamilton to Mountain Pine. He and the other district’s officials appeared earlier this month before the state’s education board to reluctantly defend the denial.

“We would have permitted those children to transfer to Mountain Pine if we had been able to make the decision with our hearts, but the consent decree took that decision away from us,” he said in a statement.

Bobby Gray, superintendent of the Mountain Pine district, also said in a statement that “for more than 20 years, we have had to explain to parents why the color of a child’s skin determines whether or not he or she can transfer from one district to another in Garland County.”

The 1992 consent decree comes from a lawsuit the six districts filed in 1989 against the Hot Springs School District, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (https://bit.ly/1qf9c0i ). The districts are Lake Hamilton, Lakeside, Cutter-Morning Star, Jessieville, Fountain Lake and Mountain Pine.

The decree included race-based student assignment provisions from the 1989 Public School Choice Act that was later deemed unconstitutional in 2012 based on the race restriction.

The Lake Hamilton School District is 2 percent black, while Mountain Pine’s district is 10 percent black. Under the 1989 law, students cannot transfer to a different district that has a higher student population of their race than their previous district.

Even though that law was ruled unconstitutional and replaced with the School Choice Act of 2013, which eliminates the race restriction, the six districts have to abide by the 1989 law because the consent decree is still in force.

On Monday, the six districts filed a motion in Hot Springs, requesting a federal judge end the consent decree.

Joyce Craft, superintendent of the Hot Springs district, the only county district that is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said she did not know the other school districts had filed the motion.

“There has been some conversation about it, though not formally,” Craft said.

She told the newspaper she wanted to talk to the district’s attorneys and the Hot Springs School Board before saying how the district, named as a defendant in the lawsuit, would respond to the motion.

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


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