PRICE MARSHALL: Orders trial on discrimination complaint in Little Rock School District. SNIPVIEW

Federal Judge Price Marshall today refused the state’s effort to dismiss the lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in the state’s operation of the Little Rock School District.

John Walker, the state representative and an attorney in the case, said he was pleased and looked forward to making his case that facilities decisions were made repeatedly that were discriminatory to black students. The facility issue is critical as a matter o timing, with the state planning to borrow money to build a new high school and do other work.  Opponents of the state takeover of the district have been critical of the borrowing plan and of schjool closure decisions, along with new investments in schools in the predominantly white, higher income western Little Rock.


The judge wrote, after dismissing some claims:

The core of Plaintiffs’ remaining claim is about facilities and other resources, such as school programs. Has LRSD intentionally discriminated based on race through district policy, custom, or practice in providing them? And there’s an embedded issue about the attendance zone for Central High School. [Does it favor white families to the detriment of other high schools?] Though Poore and Key make strong arguments about traceability and on the merits, the Court concludes that it can make a better judgment on the facilities/resources claim after seeing and hearing the witnesses, plus considering all the documents with the context that only live testimony, as well as oral argument, will provide. 

State Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who has functioned as “school board” of the district since the state took it over two years ago on account of low test scores in six of 48 schools, and Superintendent Michael Poore had sought dismissal. Marshall dismissed some claims by students no longer in the district, but said the declaration that the district had achieved unitary status, including a global settlement in 2014, didn’t bar claims about policies and practices pursued since then.


The judge -dismissed a claim of discriminatory discipline.

The record shows isolated instances involving a few teachers and perhaps principals, generalized feelings of disparate treatment, and some bottom-line numbers from across the district.  All this is insufficient as a matter of law. 

He also ruled against plaintiffs on teacher assignments.


Key suggests that where the teachers work is mostly a function of the collective bargaining agreement. Maybe, but the Court doesn’t rule on this basis.Instead, Plaintiffs simply haven’t offered sufficient evidence to support a judgment that LRSD assigns teachers based on a racially discriminatory custom, policy, or practice.

The judge added some time to the trial schedule, though not as much as plaintiffs had suggested. He set up a schedule beginning July 18, with the plaintiffs’ case completed by July 21. The defense portion of the case will “spill over” into the next week, he said.

The state had won a victory in this case earlier when the judge dismissed the challenge of the state takeover of the district and the state’s decision to continue the expansion of charter schools within the district.