St. Helena board appeals to regain control of middle school

The St. Helena Parish School Board is appealing a federal judge’s decision to deny the board a new trial after the judge rejected the parish’s request to offer middle school grades to its students.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady shot down a request in August by the School Board to overturn his May 2010 order that let the state-run Recovery School District take over the poorly performing St. Helena Central Middle School.

Nelson Taylor, an attorney for the School Board, filed a motion Aug. 12 asking for a new trial over the issue, claiming Brady’s decision was not supported by evidence and denies black parents freedom of choice in their children’s schools.

Brady, of the Middle District of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, quickly denied that motion, saying the issue had been already resolved and the board was trying to re-argue its case with the same evidence.

Taylor filed a notice Friday saying the board would appeal the decision to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The School Board’s request was part of the parish’s decades-old school desegregation suit, which Brady oversees.

St. Helena Parish has only three schools: elementary, middle and high.

The parish School Board runs the elementary and high schools.

Taylor filed a motion May 1 asking Brady either to give St. Helena Central Middle School back to the board or let the parish add fifth and sixth grades to its elementary school and seventh and eighth grades to its high school.

Taylor later filed a motion to have a fifth grade added to St. Helena Central Elementary School to accommodate parents who had requested that their children stay in the St. Helena district.

Brady later denied the board’s request.

The School Board argued it needed middle school grades of its own to maintain a consistent educational model from grades one through 12.

The board also argued that state law requires school districts to provide students an alternative school choice when their primary school is taken over by the Recovery School District.

The RSD opposed St. Helena’s request, saying the parish doesn’t have a large enough middle school population to justify having an alternative choice for parents.

The RSD also argued state law requires an alternative school choice only when an alternative choice is feasible.

Brady effectively sided with the RSD, saying in his ruling the St. Helena school district does not have enough resources or students to justify creating a second middle school option in the parish.

St. Helena Parish also requested in June 2012 to regain control of its middle school. Brady denied it about a month later.

Brady is set to visit St. Helena’s schools Thursday, Superintendent Kelli Joseph has said.