As I wrote earlier, John W. Walker late today filed his promised lawsuit over the state takeover of the Little Rock School District and ending of a democratically elected school board.
The suit is on behalf of
five four parents and a grandparent and five children, as well as Joy Springer and Jim Ross, both on the School Board when it was abolished.
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It names as defendants members of the state Board of Education, Education Commissioner Johnny Key and Superintendent Baker Kurrus.
The nub of the 71-page complaint:
This is an action to secure a remedy for the subjecting of black students enrolled in the Little Rock School District [LRSD] to intentional racial discrimination, in the period after courts held that the LRSD had achieved unitary status. This action also seeks a remedy for the state’s takeover of the LRSD and the ouster of the democratically elected LRSD Board of School Directors. Plaintiffs allege that these actions violated the United States Constitution [denial of freedom of speech, prohibited racial discrimination, conspiracy to violate rights, badge of slavery, and denial of due process of law].
I’ve outlined some of the elements of the complaint in the earlier post today. Exhibits to come with the suit include material drawn from e-mail including that of former Superintendent Dexter Suggs and members of the School Board, state Board of Education and members of the business community who lobbied for the state takeover.
I just got the suit. It’s going to take some time to digest.
Walker is joined by Robert Pressman, Austin Porter and Gale Stewart as plaintiff attorneys.
Among others, it notes the loss of students to charter schools, particularly the new Quest middle school whose formation was led by Walton Foundation-supported lobbyist Gary Newton, with a mostly white higher income student body and a waiver from the state for the required accommodations true public schools must make for special education students. He focuses, too, on the role of sitting state Board members Vicki Saviers and Diane Zook, aunt of Gary Newton, in supporting formation of the Quest and eStem charter schools.
The suit contends the state violated its own rules in taking over a whole district on account of only six of 48 schools in academic distress.
It accuses former Superintendent Dexter Suggs — forced to quit after his academic plagiarism on a doctorate degree was uncovered — of acting in bad faith and in concert with takeover proponents. He told them, but did not tell the Board, that he’d go along with a plan to turn the schools in distress into charter schools, with the district retaining transportation and cafeteria operations only.
Among other things, the suit notes the lack of education schooling and work background for Key, who was Asa Hutchinson’s choice to run the Education Department, and Kurrus, though he served for years on the school board. The lawsuit recounts actions against the interest of black children, from approval of charter schools to expenditures on the Roberts Elementary School beyond those in schools in black neighborhoods. These things benefitted real estate developers in the growing white end of town, the suit alleges.
The suit says the state has done little to address academic deficiencies since the January takeover and still have no solid plans beyond the recently announced contract to potentially open a new middle school in majority white Northwest Little Rock.
The suit cites too the changing testing processes of the state — three different tests in three years before it’s done. It is not possible to compare schools in the district year to year in a common manner, the suit says.
The suit said Ross and Springer had their rights abridged by being prevented from continuing in elected office. They say black families have been damaged by a district not free of racial discrimination and that blacks generally have been victims of a conspiracy to deprive them of constitutional rights.
The takeover was “rooted in racial considerations,” the suit says, with the goal to operate the schools primarily for the benefit of the white community and predominantly white schools. It names as participants in this scheme the Chamber of Commerce, its affiliate Fifty for the Future, former School Board member and senator John Riggs, and former school board member Melanie Fox. It ascribes these motives to the state board, too, and says other reasons given for takeover are pretexts.
The school board should be restored, the suit says. The suit also requests an injunction against opening a new school in west Little Rock and state approval of new charter schools until the district has a “constitutionally adequate” facilities plan. The suit also asks for unspecified relief on the reshaping of the Forest Heights school, which had been a struggling middle school, into a STEM academy; disparate availability of computers in the schools (free computers in a handful of schools with the highest white enrollments, including Forest Park and Roberts in high-income neighborhoods, while students at Dunbar practiced keyboarding on a cardboard replica); discriminatory high school attendance zones; staff assignments;disparate racial participation in Advanced Placement and gifted programs; discipline; resources, and student achievement.
The case was initially assigned to Judge Susan Webber Wright, who has taken senior status.
The plaintiff parents complain of unequal conditions in their schools and the suit contrasts the decrepit nature of schools such as the Dunbar, Wilson and Henderson schools with the superior condition of Roberts Elementary. The suit alleges, too, that faculty assignments appear racial — with higher percentages of white faculty at schools with higher percentages of white students.