Monday, August 25, 2014
For the past three decades, desegregation litigation regarding the Little Rock Arkansas School District and surrounding districts has made its way through the federal courts. In 2011, the districts in North Little Rock and Pulaski petitioned for unitary status and sought to dissolve the interdistrict desegregation plan in place. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, 2011 WL 1935332, granted the petitions in part, but on appeal in Little Rock Sch. Dist. v. Arkansas, 664 F.3d 738 (2011), the Eighth Circuit reversed, finding significant continuing vestiges of segregation and holding that the State of Arkansas had a continuing obligation to fund the interdistrict desegregation plan. Last week, on remand, the district court approved a settlement agreement between the parties by which the state of Arkansas is no longer a party to the case.This case, of course, arises out of the historic desegregation of the Little Rock Central High School crisis in 1957. This consent decree marks a major milestone in the case. Over the last 15 years, the state has contributed enormous sums of money to further segregation. It is unclear how desegregation will move forward without it. According to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, this settlement signifies "the formal end of a decades-long journey toward equality for Pulaski County public school students." John Walker, a lawyer representing the districts' African American students, however, argues that inequalities are still an issue and "expect[s] that someone else will challenge perceived inequality in the 25,000-student Little Rock School District." Specifically, Mr. Walker has argued that the predominantly white neighborhoods in the district have benefited from these payments at the expense of black students in other areas.