Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TOP STORY >> PCSSD seeking release

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District is in substantial compliance with the Plan 2000 desegregation agreement and should be declared unitary and released from court oversight, district attorney Sam Jones will tell U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller Wednesday morning at a status hearing.

The hearing, Miller’s first since being assigned the 26-year-old desegregation case, was originally set for April 13, but Miller was involved in a car wreck on his way to court.

Jones and the other principals in the case have filed briefs with the court and they will be watching for clues as to the judge’s inclinations regarding the case.

PCSSD, the North Little Rock School District and the Little Rock School District have been conjoined by the agreement, but Little Rock has been found unitary and released from court oversight.

John Walker, attorney for the Joshua Interveners, challenged U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson’s finding that the Little Rock School District was unitary, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that “substantial compliance” was the standard for achieving unitary status and that Little Rock School District met that standard.

When the court made that ruling last spring, Wilson recused himself from further involvement with the case.

Miller has asked each of the principals to answer four questions:

Whether the Pulaski County Special School District and the North Little Rock School District have reached unitary status.

If the districts have not reached unitary status, what are the impediments to the districts reaching unitary status.

If the districts have not reached unitary status, how are these districts distinguished from the Little Rock School District.

If the districts have not reached unitary status, how many more years of federal monitoring will be necessary for the districts to reach unitary status.

All have filed briefs supporting their positions, with the Joshua Interveners and the Knight Interveners both contending that PCSSD has not met the conditions to be unitary.

In his brief, Jones held that the county was in substantial compliance, the standard to which both Wilson and the 8th Circuit held the Little Rock School District, he said Monday.

“Joshua opposes the county position across the board,” he said, and reiterated their opposition to Jacksonville’s detatchment.

He said the teachers’ union submitted a brief chiding the county for discussing a Jacksonville detachment without guaranteeing measures to recognize the union, he said.

Among Jones’ contentions:

The district is substantially unitary for assignment of students to schools.

The district has 20 percent to 25 percent African-American presence in most schools, with the exception of College Station, Harris, Jacksonville, Pinewood and Taylor elementary schools, Mills and Jacksonville high schools and Sylvan Hills, Fuller and Jacksonville middle schools.

PCSSD believes the state would produce an expert witness to testify that these enrollment outcomes demonstrate good- faith compliance.