Tuesday, August 02, 2016

TOP STORY >> Districts join to fight transfers

Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District on Sunday joined the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District in its motion to have a federal court order the state Board of Education to rescind its July 12 vote to allow a school choice transfer out of JNPSD and to order the state board “to recognize exemptions declared by any party to the 2014 settlement agreement for so long as it remains in effect.”

Participation in school choice will harm JNPSD’s efforts to attain unitary status, it says.

PCSSD’s brief notes that both those districts are listed on the Arkansas Department of Education’s website as claiming a conflict with participating in school choice. Both districts claim an exemption from school choice participation.

The state Board of Education exceeded its authority in overturning the JNPSD’s denial of a student transfer to the Cabot district, the JNPSD lawyers argued in a motion that will be heard Monday by U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr.

Marshall, who is the judge in the sprawling desegregation case, agreed to the expedited hearing because school starts Aug. 15, and the student—child of Nacesha Dulaney—and the two districts need to know where she will attend. If the state Board of Education is upheld she’s headed to Cabot.

JNPSD attorneys Scott Richardson and Patrick Wilson filed a motion to enforce the 2014 desegregation settlement agreement July 28. Richardson said that agreement, approved in January 2014 by the judge, included language that exempted school districts under court supervision for desegregation purposes from the School Choice Transfer Act of 2013.

That included PCSSD, and when JNPSD detached from PCSSD, desegregation requirements transferred.

The JNPSD brief read in part: “During the five-year period, the districts agree to abide by the terms of Act 1227 of 2013, the Arkansas Public school choice act of 2013, including the exemption provisions. When JNPSD was created it became ‘a party to and bound by’ the 2014 settlement agreement.”

On March 17, JNPSD notified the state Department of Education that it would be exempt from school choice transfers for 2016-2017.

A number of students living in the JNPSD attendance area filed for school choice transfers to other districts including Cabot. All were denied.

The state board, by split vote, upheld the district’s denial of the transfers of eight students who appealed to the board, except the one currently in question.

In prior appeals, the state board recognized the authority of the settlement agreement and each was denied, according to the brief.

“But the state board (which now includes two new members) ruled in July that it was not bound by this court’s consent judgment and the 2014 settlement agreement and that it could grant the transfer despite this court’s consent judgment.

“Accordingly, the state board of education has breached the 2014 settlement agreement and violated this Court’s Consent Judgment,” according to the brief.

JNPSD requested an order enforcing the consent judgment preserving JNPSD’s exemption, and “for court costs and attorney fees.”

In the brief, the district claims, “Federal Law Prohibits the State Board of Education from Nullifying JNPSD’s Compliance with Its Desegregation Obligations. And the court retains jurisdiction.”

Marshall may rule from the bench or he may take the matter under advisement, Richardson said.