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High Court Declines To Review Louisiana Desegregation Plan

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Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined for a second time to review school-desegregation orders by lower federal courts that resulted in the controversial closing of two schools in a central Louisiana school district.

The Court, without comment, let stand a district judge's 1980 order closing the predominantly white Forest Hill and predominantly black Cheneyville elementary schools in the southeast corner of Rapides Parish, La. A federal appeals court last March declined to reverse the order.

Under U.S. District Judge Nauman S. Scott's order, students from the two rural schools are being bused to a third school approximately 40 miles away. That decision was contested by the parish (county) school board and by a group of white parents from the Forest Hill area.

It also prompted some of the parents from Forest Hill to establish their own private school on property adjacent to the closed school building, according to Allen Nichols, superintendent of the parish school district. At present, 219 of the closed school's 325 pupils are attending the new school "and their parents have no plans to send them back to the public schools," Mr. Nichols said.

Judge Scott's order "unnecessarily and inappropriately intruded into the responsibility, jurisdiction, and authority" of the state and the school board by closing the two schools "when no party to the litigation has ever requested such relief and other constitutionally acceptable and far less drastic alternatives were available," the school board said in its motion for review of the case, Rapides Parish School Board v. Valley (Case No. 83-289).

"In this instant case, it was clearly unnecessary for the district court to usurp the authority of this school board to decide where schools should be located and whether or not they should be closed, as no party to this litigation had requested that it do so [and] no desegregation expert had ever suggested that it do so," the board argued.

The board also said that Judge Scott's order "raises grave questions for the future with regard to the law of school desegregation" by rejecting the desegregation plan fashioned by the board, by rejecting another plan offered by a U.S. Justice Department expert, and by creating and imposing the judge's own plan.

Judge's 'Error'

The judge's "fundamental error" was his conclusion that a desegregation plan must be designed to achieve the greatest amount of integration, the board contended.

The white parents from the Forest Hill area offered similar arguments in their motion for review of their separate lawsuit, Holloway v. Valley (No. 83-129).

"No opinion of this Court suggests federal judges can close good schools against the wishes of the school board where less drastic remedial alternatives are available," the parents said. "The decision below not only usurps local control of education, but it plainly carries federal courts into realms of policy and plant management better left to local school officials."

The Justice Department, however, disagreed with that position in a brief that it filed in support of the black parents and students who were the plaintiffs in the case.

"The court of appeals decision presents no novel legal issues," the department said. "Rather, it involves only the application of settled legal principles to the facts of this case."

In February 1982, the Court rejected an earlier challenge of the plan by the school board. At that time, the board contended that racial imbalance in the schools was caused by demographic change. (See Education Week, March 3, 1982).

Mr. Nichols said lawyers for the school board have advised it not to ask the Court to reconsider its refusal to hear the case. "There's certainly no place left for us to go," he said.

In other action last week:

The Court let stand a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in a case involving the dismissal of a nontenured teacher in Belen, N.M.

In that lawsuit, Provoda v. Belen Board of Education (No. 83-339), the appeals court upheld a federal district judge's decision not to present the teacher's case to a jury and his subsequent dismissal of charges against the Belen school board.

The teacher, Ellen Provoda, alleged that she received a critical job evaluation from her supervisors and subsequently was not rehired as a result of a dispute with the school district's curriculum supervisor. According to papers filed with the Court, Ms. Provoda had criticized teaching materials for a 3rd-grade reading program, thus engendering "ill feelings" between her and school administrators.

Ms. Provoda claimed in her suit that her comments to the curriculum supervisor were protected by the First Amendment. She also claimed that her dismissal violated her due-process rights under the 14th Amendment.

The Court declined to review a similar lawsuit stemming from the dismissal of a tenured bus driver for the Natchitoches (La.) Parish School District.

The case, Ivy v. Natchitoches Parish School Board (No. 83-290), also involved the alleged violation of a school employee's due-process rights under the 14th Amendment.

According to papers filed with the Court, the bus driver, Lottie Mae Ivy, had become involved in a dispute with her employers over past-due wages. Subsequently, she became involved in an accident in which her bus was struck by a truck.

Although she was not prosecuted as a result of the accident, in which no one was seriously injured, she was dismissed by the school board on charges of incompetence.

Ms. Ivy, who had been employed by the school board for 24 years, alleged that her dismissal was based not on the accident but rather on her dispute with her supervisors over wages. As evidence, she claimed that she could cite 10 other instances in which other bus drivers were involved in similar accidents but not dismissed.

Her dismissal was upheld by a state appeals court and the Louisiana Supreme Court.

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