HOPE PREVAILS: School district wins case over school transfers.

The Hope, Lafayette County, Junction City and Camden Fairview School Districts all have won a federal judge’s ruling in favor of their challenge of the state Board of Education’s decision to force them to allow interdistrict transfers under the state school transfer law.

The districts have fought open transfer laws, citing past decisions in federal court desegregation cases and the impact of transfers on resegregation. Typically, transfers are most used by white students leaving for districts with smaller minority enrollments.

Judge Susan Hickey of El Dorado had earlier refused to block the state Board of Education decision to require approval of transfers in the four districts this year under a 2017 law. That meant the loss of 20 or so students in both Hope and Lafayette County, about 15 in Camden Fairview and seven in Junction City, said Allen Roberts of Camden, attorney for the districts.

They are among a handful of the districts in Arkansas still claiming exemption from the transfer law on the basis of past desegregation cases. The state Board of Education, buttressed by state law pushed by backers of so-called school choice required districts to prove explicit court approval of exemptions. That sent the districts to court to receive court approval of past decrees to reflect that.

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Roberts said he expected an appeal of today’s decision. The Walton Family Foundation and other wealthy backers of the agenda have supported efforts in the legislature and courts to end exemptions from the transfer law. He said he was hopeful he could persuade the state to agree to a court-supervised settlement process. He said the districts would report annually to the federal court and continue to be exempt as they were maintaining racial percentages and otherwise meeting terms of the ruling.

This decision comes as organizations supported by the Walton fortune and other billionaires are promoting “school choice” week and planning a legislative assault to further advance charter schools, voucher programs and other damage to conventional public school districts.

In the four cases, the districts asked for clarification that they still operated under the requirements of past decrees. Though circumstances and timing are different, the core issue was the same. Hickey wrote, for example, in the Lafayette case, that the past rulings were modified to “explicitly prohibit the segregative inter-district transfer of students from LCSD to other school districts, unless such a transfer is requested for education or compassionate purposes and is approved by LCSD’s school board on a case-by-case basis.”

The judge noted school transfers were not permitted by law at the time these court cases were decided, thus there was no need then to explicitly prohibit interdistrict transfers that caused segregation. She said case law allows modification of consent decrees under such circumstances. The state argued against this. But she wrote:

The present requested modification would not directly restrict any other school district’s ability to participate in school choice or to receive students from other school districts that are otherwise eligible to participate in school choice. The proposed modification would only prevent other school districts from receiving segregative student transfers from LCSD pursuant to school choice. This minor intrusion into other school districts’ ability to receive LCSD transfer students does not directly impact those other school districts.

She did not order those students who transferred this year to return.