NPR has a feature up today timed to the federal court hearing today on the proposal to put an end to the federal desegregation lawsuit in Pulaski County.
Expectations are that federal Judge Price Marshall will approve the settlement among the state, school districts and black families. But it is not a moment for celebration.
The case mandated desegregation efforts in the school districts, but it couldn’t prevent an exodus of families, many of whom pulled up stakes precisely to avoid the results of the court case.
“This is not a joyful day for African-American people in America,” says attorney John Walker, who represents black students in the Little Rock desegregation case.
He acknowledges there have been pockets of progress in Little Rock, which has retained more white students than other southern cities. But Walker says the state has not lived up to its constitutional obligation to provide an equal educational opportunity.
“The only thing that’s been achieved here is that the laws are gone,” Walker says. “There’s nothing that overtly allows students to be segregated … on the basis of race.”
Walker says the legal system of segregation has been replaced by a defacto system.
The court hearing, coincidentally, comes barely 72 hours after state Board of Education approval of a state-financed Quest “charter” school for upscale Chenal Valley. It was sought by parents who don’t want their children to attend the available middle schools in the Little Rock School District, which are overwhelmingly black and poor. Attendance at the new school will be by lottery, but no transportation will be provided and the Little Rock and Pulaski School districts’ lawyers predicted the school will be much whiter and better off economically than a typical public school. Court rulings in recent years have said, however, that race need not be a factor in school attendance zones and other considerations.
Pulaski Superintendent Jerry Guess commented, in defending the case as having provided a “safety net” for many students over the years:
“I have had a lot of people comment about their kids going to schools where black students are and not wanting to,” Guess says. “And I believe that’s still, unfortunately, a truth about human nature.”
A truth, he says, that courts don’t have the ability to change.