Judge has not yet decided if he alone will rule on case
GONZALES — A federal judge in Baton Rouge reset the trial date Monday in a five-year-old lawsuit over the redistricting of public school attendance zones in Ascension Parish.
U.S. Chief District Judge Brian A. Jackson set trial for Feb. 3-7, though dueling motions for summary judgment remain on his desk and ask him to rule without a trial.
“No further continuances for the trial date will be considered by the Court,” a note Monday in the federal court’s online docket system said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs and the School Board argued over their respective motions for summary judgment Sept. 18 before Jackson.
He took the arguments under advisement and had not ruled as of Monday afternoon.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Ryland Percy III and School Board defense attorney Bob Hammonds said Monday that they had been notified about the new trial date but declined further comment.
In the March 2008 suit, the plaintiff, Darrin Kenny Lewis Sr., representing his two children then in the school system, alleged the School Board improperly considered race in setting the district lines and in modifying exclusive high school feeder systems.
Their attorneys alleged the process resulted in a larger proportion of minority and at-risk students at East Ascension High School than in neighboring east bank high schools, St. Amant and Dutchtown.
The higher minority and at-risk populations at East Ascension deprived other minority students of educational opportunities, the plaintiffs argued.
Lewis and his children are black.
The plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment cites School Board member depositions, claiming they show school racial makeup was at least a factor in the board vote for the Option 2F plan on Jan. 15, 2008, and argues the decision violated constitutional protections.
School officials have said they were trying to address overcrowding at Dutchtown High but maintain unitary status granted in 2004, which ended a long-standing desegregation suit.
The school system, in its motion, argues Option 2F was a racially neutral plan and notes that school performance numbers have risen at East Ascension since redistricting.
In November 2011, a divided three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned part of a previous District Court ruling granting an earlier School Board motion for summary judgment.