- Associated Press - Thursday, October 29, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Supreme Court granted an appeal Thursday from the state Department of Education, saying it can’t be sued by former school board members who say the state shouldn’t have taken over the Little Rock School District.

The state’s high court issued the opinion granting the state’s appeal of a lower court’s decision. A Pulaski County Circuit Court judge denied the state’s request to dismiss the lawsuit in March, ruling the state could be sued for its decision to take over the Little Rock district and dissolve its school board.

The takeover vote in January came after six Little Rock schools were determined to be in academic distress. The Supreme Court ruled that the state board acted in good faith and the Little Rock School Board members did not present a valid exception to the state’s sovereign immunity - the legal principle that the state cannot be sued for fulfilling its legal duties. The court dismissed the board member’s lawsuit.

“We are pleased with the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision regarding sovereign immunity. We are committed to ensuring the constitutional standard of education is met for all students in Arkansas, and this ruling affirms the state’s duty to act when necessary,” Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key wrote in an emailed statement.

Willard Proctor, an attorney for the school board members, said the Supreme Court did not address his clients’ core legal arguments about the takeover.

“We’re extremely disappointed in the decision, but we are not deterred. What they have done is still unconstitutional. They did not rule on the specific arguments we raised … but we think it’s just a matter of time before those are brought before the court,” Proctor said.

A handful of parents brought a federal lawsuit against the Arkansas Department of Education over the takeover earlier this month. That lawsuit is still pending.

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