A federal judge on Monday granted a request by the state to intervene in a Junction City School District desegregation lawsuit, enabling the state to defend its directive that the district participate in Arkansas School Choice Act interdistrict student transfers.
U.S. District Judge Susan O. Hickey granted the Arkansas Department of Education and Arkansas Board of Education's motion to intervene in the United States of America v. Junction City School District.
Hickey's order Monday follows on the heels of two orders she issued July 2 that allow the state to similarly intervene in federal desegregation cases involving the Hope and the Lafayette County school districts. Again, she granted the motion to enable the state agents to defend directives that the districts participate in Arkansas School Choice Act student transfers.
Hickey gave the state until July 20 to submit its written arguments in support of the interdistrict transfers in Junction City.
The state has until July 16 to file its arguments in the Hope and Lafayette County cases.
State Education Department staff earlier this year denied or partially denied requests from four districts—Junction City, Hope, Lafayette County and Camden Fairview—to be exempted from participating in interdistrict student transfers, saying that the language in the districts' federal court desegregation orders or court-approved desegregation plans did not prohibit those transfers.
The Camden Fairview district's request for an exemption was partially approved and partially denied by the state. The Education Department had agreed that student transfers to Harmony Grove School District in Ouachita County were prohibited by the federal court decrees—but student transfers from Camden Fairview to other systems were allowable.
Leaders in the four districts appealed the state agency decisions to the Arkansas Board of Education. They argued to the education board that allowing students to cross district lines to attend schools in districts in which they don't reside will result in "white flight" out of their districts and put their school systems in conflict with federal court-ordered school desegregation obligations.
The Board of Education upheld the Department of Education decisions denying the requests for exemptions from the transfers.
The four districts followed up by filing motions in their federal desegregation cases asking that Hickey declare that the School Choice Act program is either in conflict with the desegregation obligations of the school systems or that the desegregation orders be altered to reflect the School Choice Act provisions.
The state did not have to ask to intervene in the Camden Fairview case because it is already a party in it.