BREAUX BRIDGE — The St. Martin Parish School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to appeal a federal judge’s ruling last month that could revive the parish’s long-dormant school desegregation case.
The School Board argues that the desegregation lawsuit was dismissed in 1974 and points to the lack of court activity for nearly four decades.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote sided with the U.S. Department of Justice and attorneys for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in a ruling that found the case was never technically closed.
The School Board’s vote to fight the ruling on appeal came after a brief closed-door discussion.
“It’s been 40-something years,” St. Martin Parish School Superintendent Richard Lavergne said after the meeting. “We feel that the case is strong.”
The judge’s ruling last month did not address whether the St. Martin Parish school system meets federal desegregation guidelines, and the issue at this point is simply whether the case remains open.
If Foote’s ruling stands on appeal, it raises the specter of a more-intensive court review of desegregation issues, such as the racial balance of staff and students, and whether all students, regardless of race, have access to comparable schools.
Attorneys for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund have said they are reviewing desegregation issues in the parish’s school system.
Renewed activity in the old case began in 2009 as part of a review by judges of older desegregation lawsuits in the area.
The judge who was initially assigned the lawsuit wrote in a 2010 minute entry that it appeared to have been resolved in the 1970s but also invited any parties who had been involved in the case to notify her if they disagreed.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Justice Department both responded that the St. Martin Parish school system was technically still under federal oversight.
Foote agreed, characterizing as ambiguous a 1974 court ruling that the board had argued ended the case.
In other business Wednesday, the School Board voted to begin advertising this month to seek a replacement for Lavergne, who is retiring in June after serving as superintendent since 2007.
Lavergne said he and his staff will likely review the applicants by the end of the year to ensure they meet the qualifications.
Board members said a vote on the new superintendent could be made in January, giving the new hire about six months to work with Lavergne before his retirement.