Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Eighth Circuit Upholds District's Decision to Opt Out of School Choice Law To Comply With Desegregation Mandates
The Eighth Circuit has affirmed a district court's ruling that an Arkansas school district acted properly in opting out of the state's school choice statute because to comply with its efforts to remedy the effects of past racial segregation. Derek has followed the related litigation over the 2013 Arkansas Public School Choice Law, which allows students to transfer to schools outside their district, but also allows districts to claim an exemption from the Act if the district was subject to a desegregation order or mandate of a federal court. The plaintiffs in yesterday's Eighth Circuit decision were parents in the Blytheville School District who were prevented from sending their children to another district because the district resolved, for the 2013–2014 school year, to opt out of the School Choice Law because it would conflict with its obligations under a federal court desegregation order. The plaintiffs sued in federal court, arguing that the district violated their due process and equal protection rights under § 1983 and Arkansas' civil rights law by using race as the reason for its exemption and nullifying the 2013 Act "on the pretense that it was subject to a desegregation order" even though that case was closed in 1978. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment order of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in favor of the district. The circuit court held that the district had a rational basis for believing that the desegregation suit and the related federal agency oversight meant that the district could not take any action that could result in returning to the dual-school system dismantled by the federal desegregation order. The Eighth Circuit also rejected arguments that a parent's ability to choose where his or her child is educated within the public school system is a fundamental right of liberty; nor did the Act create a property interest in exercising public school choice because the parents did not have more than "a mere subjective expectancy of school choice under the Act" since receiving nonresident districts retain discretion to accept or reject transfer students. The circuit court also held that the parents failed to prove that the district had a disparate purpose in claiming the exemption, in part because the parents had no evidence that African-American students were allowed nonresidential transfers on the basis of race. Thus, the circuit court concluded, the proper test for the district's action was rational basis, and the district had a rational basis for believing it was subject to a federal court desegregation order or federal agency mandate which it would violate if it failed to claim the exemption. Read Adkisson, et al v. Blytheville School District #5 here.