The opinion of the court was delivered by: WOODS
HENRY WOODS, U.S. District Judge
The Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) has submitted its student assignment plan (hereafter March plan); the Little Rock School District (LRSD) and the Joshua Intervenors have filed objections. I have serious questions whether the LRSD has standing at this point to object to PCSSD's intradistrict student assignment plan, except to the extent that elements of the PCSSD plan have interdistrict effects. Likewise, the Joshua Intervenors, none of whom attends school in the PCSSD, can only object to aspects of the plan which have an interdistrict effect. The one interdistrict effect cited by the LRSD is that the PCSSD student assignment plan will result in future white flight. The LRSD attributes this effect to so-called neighborhood schools in PCSSD and to "white havens," or predominantly white suburban areas in PCSSD that will attract whites wishing to escape desegregation. The neighborhood school argument is without merit. The LRSD's own plan submitted to and approved by this court calls for children to be assigned to the school closest to their homes so long as that assignment is compatible with desegregation efforts.
Nonetheless, the problem of white flight is troublesome. My original decision would have consolidated the school districts. It was my opinion that consolidation was necessary to remedy the years of white flight caused by the segregative practices of the school districts. It was also my belief that consolidation would provide the most effective and least burdensome method of desegregation since one consolidated district could rather easily have been divided into contiguous, racially integrated attendance zones. However, the court of appeals found consolidation too drastic a remedy. The court of appeals ordered the school districts left intact, thus mandating that a 76% white suburban school district surround a 42% white city school district. It is implausible to think whites will flee in any greater numbers to a 15% black school than to a 24% black school.
It is true that the ratio of blacks to whites in the March plan is less desegregative arithmetically than the PCSSD plan submitted in January (hereafter January plan). However, viewing the totality of the circumstances involved, the Court is convinced that the March plan will, in the long run, result in greater desegregation.
The inescapable fact is that, since the recent boundary change, the PCSSD is left with a geographically truncated district, extending over more than 700 square miles. South of the Arkansas River (the river) the PCSSD serves two noncontiguous areas, separated by a large area which was ceded to the LRSD in the boundary change. (Ironically, the area ceded included one of the few relatively integrated areas of the PCSSD.)
Given the peculiar demographics and geography of the PCSSD which this court is powerless to alter, the March plan represents a sound approach to desegregation. The PCSSD's change in policy regarding school expansion and new school sittings, its compensatory education proposal for schools which exceed 40% black, and its intradistrict specialty schools demonstrate a commitment to a course of conduct which can result in continuously improving racial ratios. The March plan is far superior to the January plan which surely would have resulted in integrated schools on paper only. After all, we are not dealing with checkers on a 700 square mile checker board, but with children. The January plan, with its 24-mile-one-way bus rides, was doomed to fail. The March plan, by contrast, offers the first glimmer of hope for a desegregated PCSSD.
The March plan divides the PCSSD into roughly three areas: a southeast sector, a southwest sector, and a north-of-the-river or northern sector. Each sector is roughly the geographic size of the new LRSD.
Elementary schools in the northern sector will range from 15-35% black with three exceptions, discussed below. The numbers are well within the guidelines set by the Eighth Circuit's mandate. It is also significant that schools with a lower than district-wide percentage of blacks will maintain the recommended 15% "critical mass" of students of the non-majority race.
Three northern sector elementary schools will be less than 15% black. Bayou Meto was designated as an "isolated school" under the long-ignored Zinnamon decree. It remains a thinly populated area, distant from any other center of population. It shall remain designated as "remote." The other two northern sector elementary schools with under 15% black enrollment, Oak Grove and Pine Forest, are currently overcrowded and in critical need of expansion. No existing school may be enlarged unless the enrollment in that school is reasonably projected to be within twenty (20) percent of the district-wide percentage of black or white students by organizational level, i.e., elementary, junior high and senior high. As a fail-safe measure, under no circumstance will a school with less than the district-wide percentage of blacks be enlarged unless the percentage of blacks living within reasonable proximity to the school has increased over that of the 1987-88 school year. This incentive to desegregate housing patterns is an effective approach to striking at the heart of segregation.
The variance from the district percentage of blacks in the junior high schools in the northern sector is less pronounced with the black percentage ranging from 14% to 29%, except for Oak Grove at 10%. The Oak Grove schools are currently overcrowded at all levels. The commitment to encourage desegregated housing patterns should aid in improving the ratio of blacks to whites. Similarly, the northern sector high schools range from 14-21% black, with the exception of Oak Grove, which will be 11% black.
The raw percentages in the southwest sector initially give rise to some concern. The three elementary schools, Lawson, Baker, and Robinson, will be 11%, 12%, and 13% black respectively. The one junior high, Robinson, is 10% black and the one senior high is 10% black. The March plan has several components designed to deal specifically with these schools. Baker is the closest of the three elementary schools to a center of black population. Baker is currently slated for before- and after-school child care to encourage the intra-district transfer of blacks who are in the southeast sector. Under the March plan, the district would provide transportation for black students whose parents wish to take advantage of this extended day care program. The two proposed intra-district transfer categories which promote desegregation add a desirable element of choice. However, category III (S.A. Exhibit 1 at p. 11) is not a reassignment category which promotes desegregation. For hardship reassignments, the PCSSD should devise a case-by-case evaluation procedure. Any reassignment which is segregative in its effect should be justified and carefully documented.
Another of the many ironies of the recent boundary change is that the predominantly black community of Pankey was transferred from the PCSSD to the LRSD. Black students who live in Pankey presently attend the Robinson schools. PCSSD has begun an aggressive recruiting drive to retain these black students by use of the interdistrict majority-to-minority transfers. As previously ordered, transportation will be provided to these students. If successful, the ...