Inside Report: Suit claims segregation in Ascension

Sixty years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court declared in a landmark decision that the doctrine of separate but equal has no place in the field of public education.

“Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” the high court ruled in 1954 in the case of Brown v. Board of Education.

Six decades later, attorneys for a black Gonzales parent challenging the Ascension Parish School Board’s 2008 school assignment plan contend “ ‘separate but equal’ is again the law of the land” in the parish school system.

“As a result of actions taken by the School Board on January 15, 2008, a major step was taken toward the re-segregation of the Ascension Parish schools on the East Bank of the Mississippi River. …,” Darrin K. Lewis Sr.’s attorneys claim in a post-trial memorandum filed April 18.

The board’s attorneys argue in a post-trial memorandum of their own that the school assignment plan known as Option 2f was adopted to help resolve severe overcrowding in the Dutchtown area of the parish — period.

“The Option 2f plan consists of boundary maps, geographical descriptions of the zones and the feeder plan chart, none of which mention race …,” the board’s lawyers wrote.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson conducted a three-day bench trial of Lewis’ lawsuit in February and asked that written post-trial arguments be filed by April 18 — a deadline both sides met.

East Ascension High School has a majority black student body, while Dutchtown and St. Amant high schools are predominantly white.

Lewis’ attorneys point out the minority population at EAHS rose from 42.5 percent in January 2008 to 53 percent in February of this year.

The board’s attorneys counter that in 2007, prior to Option 2f, 688 white students attended EAHS, 419 minorities went to Dutchtown and 193 minority students were enrolled at St. Amant. By 2013, the board’s attorneys say, 850 white students attended EAHS, 560 minorities went to Dutchtown and 330 minority students were enrolled at St. Amant.

Lewis, who had two children in the East Ascension High feeder zone in 2008, alleges in his suit that the board improperly considered race in setting district lines and in modifying exclusive high school feeder systems.

The suit claims the process resulted in a larger proportion of minority and low-income students at EAHS than at the neighboring east bank high schools of Dutchtown and St. Amant.

Lewis’ attorneys argue in their memorandum that the board “acted with a racially discriminatory purpose” and that Option 2f, approved by the board by a 6-4 vote, had a “racially discriminatory impact” on minorities at EAHS. His attorneys say the board’s contention that race was not a primary consideration is simply not true.

The board’s attorneys say Lewis and his attorneys are simply wrong.

“Under Option 2f, all students are assigned to schools on the basis of their residence only,” the board’s attorneys argue in their memorandum. “Board members and administrators looked at the racial enrollment projections in order to avoid movement of students that would re-segregate the student population.”

The board’s attorneys note the curriculum and course offerings at each high school are similar or the same, and the minority and white students at EAHS attend the same classes taught by the same teachers using the same curriculum.

“With both white and minority students being in the same position to be affected by Option 2f, there can be no race discrimination,” the board’s attorneys argue.

Jackson is being asked to prohibit Option 2f from being implelented any longer.

Joe Gyan Jr. covers courts for The Advocate. He can be reached at jgyan@theadvocate.com.