- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Department of Education denied four districts exemption from participating in Public School Choice Act student transfers across district lines in the 2018-19 academic year.

The Hope, Lafayette County, Junction City and Camden Fairview districts are now appealing the denials to the state Board of Education. The appeals will be heard on March 8, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported .

Leaders in the four districts said interdistrict student transfers will put their school systems in conflict with federal court-ordered school desegregation obligations. The education department is assuming authority reserved for the federal courts, according to Allen P. Roberts, an attorney for the districts.

The 2017 School Choice Act allows Arkansas students to attend public schools in districts other than the one in which they live in. More than 13,600 students exercised such options in 2016-17, according to the Education Department.

Districts are allowed to be exempt if participation would put the district in conflict with federal court desegregation orders or a federal court-ordered desegregation plan. School districts that want an exemption are required to send to the education department by Jan. 1 of every year proof from a federal court that the district has a genuine conflict under an active desegregation order or plan.

“Based on the documentation provided, it does not appear that the District is subject to any limitations explicitly limiting the interdistrict transfer of students,” Jennifer Davis, an attorney for the department, wrote to superintendents of the Hope and Lafayette County districts.

Roberts said in the appeal letters Monday that allowing students to transfer across district lines will have a segregating effect on the districts and hinder desegregation plans within their own district.

“Lafayette County School District’s position is that any time demographic differences such as these exist, i.e. a substantially ‘blacker’ district bordered by a substantially ‘whiter’ district, the result of the ‘blacker’ district’s participation in free and unrestricted school choice will be white flight,” Roberts wrote.

Lafayette County has a 61 percent black enrollment, while the neighboring Spring Hill district has 1 percent.

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


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