Tangipahoa School Board may change improvement plans

After several months of internal discussions, Tangipahoa Parish school officials met Tuesday with a plaintiffs attorney in the district’s desegregation case to discuss possible modifications to the court-ordered plan for improving parish schools.

School system officials have proposed clustering schools and using magnet programs or other enhancements to attract students across current school district lines in an effort to desegregate without having to spend $54.5 million on three new elementary schools required under the current plan.

The School Board sought a status conference in February to present the proposal to U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle, who oversees the 47-year-old case. However, Lemelle denied the motion, instead directing the attorneys to first reach a consensus on any possible changes.

Tuesday’s meeting lasted more than two hours and was both cordial and productive, School Board member Brett Duncan said. Plaintiffs attorney Nelson Taylor had several questions about the plan, some of which will require follow-up from the board, Duncan said.

The discussions will be ongoing, but Duncan said he believes the modified plan will move forward in a timely manner.

In other developments, the School Board has urged the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold an injunction against certain voucher program, course provider and teacher tenure laws within the parish.

The board argued in a brief filed Friday that Lemelle had the legal authority to find that certain portions of Acts 1 and 2 of the 2012 regular legislative session prevent the school district from complying with its current desegregation plan.

The Louisiana Department of Education appealed Lemelle’s Nov. 28 ruling, arguing that the federal district judge’s second-guessing of state decision-making violated state sovereignty rights guaranteed under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Education Department also argued that the federal court should have refrained from ruling, pending the outcome of two state court cases challenging the constitutionality of Acts 1 and 2.

However, the School Board contends that the injunction was necessary to prevent a violation of federal civil rights law.

Also, the federal court and parish school system had no way of knowing how soon the state court cases would be resolved, the School Board said in its brief. Both state cases remain on appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The Tangipahoa Parish school system would be irreparably harmed if it were unable to meet the district court’s desegregation orders, whereas there would be little harm to the state as a result of the injunction, which is limited to Tangipahoa Parish, the board said.