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Davis v. Franks

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

January 17, 2019

ROSIE L. DAVIS, et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
WILLIAM DALE FRANKS, et al. DEFENDANTS ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION and ARKANSAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION INTERVENORS

          ORDER

          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge

         Before the Court is the Hope School District's (“Hope”) Motion for Declaratory Judgment, or Alternatively, for Clarification of Previous Orders, or Alternatively, for Modification of Previous Orders. (ECF No. 129). Plaintiffs have filed a response in support of the motion. (ECF No. 132). The Arkansas Department of Education (“ADE”) and the Arkansas State Board of Education (“SBE”) have filed a response in opposition. (ECF No. 149). Hope has filed a reply. (ECF No. 157). The Court finds the matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 5, 1988, this case was filed by African American individuals who were employed by or attended the Hope Public School District No. 1A in Hope, Arkansas. Plaintiffs sought to redress alleged racial discrimination regarding Hope's treatment of African American students and faculty. On November 16, 1989, the Court[1] dismissed this case with prejudice subject to the terms of a consent decree executed by the parties (the “Davis Decree”). (ECF Nos. 37, 38).

         When dismissing this case, the Court retained jurisdiction to reopen this action upon cause shown that the settlement had not been completed and that further litigation is necessary. (ECF No. 37).

         On January 8, 1990, the Court filed the Davis Decree on this case's docket. The Davis Decree provides in relevant part that:

[I]t is the intent of this Decree to remedy any past discrimination based upon race and to prevent any like discrimination from occurring in the future. Although this action is brought on behalf of named black individual pupils and staff, the parties hereby agree that this Decree shall be equally applied to all such students and staff now and hereafter within the Hope School District No. 1A . . .
The Court, by consent of the parties, therefore enjoins, forbids and restrains the defendants from hereinafter engaging in any policies, practices, customs or usages of racial discrimination in any of its school operations including, but not limited to, faculty assignments, student assignments, and the treatment of black and other minority pupils within the school system . . .
The Court shall have continuing jurisdiction of this Consent Decree in order to [e]nsure compliance with the spirit and terms of this Decree.

(ECF No. 38, ¶¶ 3, 4, 21).

         The Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 1989 (the “1989 Act”) was in effect at the time the parties executed the Davis Decree. The 1989 Act provided for a school choice program whereby a student could apply to attend a public school in a district that the student did not reside in, subject to certain limitations. The 1989 Act provided further that “[n]o student may transfer to a nonresident district where the percentage of enrollment for the student's race exceeds that percentage in his resident district” and that “[i]n any instance where the foregoing provisions would result in a conflict with a desegregation court order, the terms of the order shall govern.” (ECF No. 129-2, §§ 11(a-b)).

         In 2013, the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2013 (the “2013 Act”) was enacted, expressly repealing the 1989 Act. The 2013 Act again allowed students to apply to attend a nonresident public school district. However, the 2013 Act did not contain the 1989 Act's limiting language barring segregative inter-district transfers.[2] The 2013 Act allowed any school district to annually declare itself exempt from participating in school choice if said participation would conflict with the school district's obligations under a federal court's “desegregation plan regarding the effects of past racial segregation in student assignment” or a federal court order “remedying the effects of past racial segregation.” (ECF No. 129-5, p. 11). Any school district that made this declaration would be exempt from participating in school choice for that school year.

         In 2015, the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2015 (the “2015 Act”) was enacted, thereby amending the 2013 Act. The 2015 Act, among other things, eliminated the school districts' ability to declare themselves exempt from participating in school choice due to a conflict with existing obligations under a federal court's desegregation plan or order. Instead, the 2015 Act required that a school district wishing to be exempt from participating in school choice must submit proof to the ADE “that the school district has a genuine conflict under an active desegregation order or active court-approved desegregation plan with the [2015 Act.]” (ECF No. 129-6, p. 5). If the school district submitted proof of an order or plan to the ADE, the provisions of the order or plan would govern, thereby exempting the school district from participating in school choice.

         In 2017, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Act 1066 of the Regular Session of 2017 (the “2017 Act”), thereby amending the 2015 Act. The 2017 Act, among other things, amended the 2015 Act's language allowing school districts to seek an exemption from participating in school choice. Under the 2017 Act, school districts seeking to be exempt from participation in school choice must now submit proof to the ADE “that the school district has a genuine conflict under an active desegregation order or active court-approved desegregation plan that explicitly limits the transfer of students between school districts.” (ECF No. 129-7, p. 2) (emphasis added). The ADE evaluates school districts' applications for an exemption from school choice and determines whether to grant an exemption. The SBE decides any appeals of the ADE's decisions regarding school choice exemption applications.

         From 2013 through 2017, Hope annually applied for exemptions from participating in school choice pursuant to the school choice law in effect at the time. Each year, the ADE and SBE observed these declared conflicts with school choice and included Hope on a public list of school districts not participating in school choice. Accordingly, Hope did not participate in school choice at all while the 2013 Act and 2015 Act were in effect.

         On December 27, 2017, Hope applied for an exemption from participating in school choice under the 2017 Act for the 2018-2019 school year and submitted supporting documents to the ADE. On January 19, 2018, the ADE denied Hope's request for an exemption, finding that Hope failed to demonstrate that it was subject to a federal court's active desegregation order “explicitly limiting the interdistrict transfer of students.” (ECF No. 129-13) (emphasis in original). The ADE found that the Davis Decree, which Hope submitted, among other things, as proof of its conflict, did not explicitly limit inter-district student transfers and, accordingly, the ADE concluded that Hope would be required to participate in school choice for the 2018-2019 school year.

         On February 2, 2018, Hope appealed the ADE's decision to the SBE. The SBE heard Hope's appeal on March 8, 2018 and, in a subsequent order dated March 26, 2018, upheld the ADE's decision that Hope would not receive an exemption and, therefore, must participate in school choice for the 2018-2019 school year. (ECF No. 129-16).

         On May 14, 2018, Hope filed the instant Motion for Declaratory Judgment, or Alternatively, for Clarification of Previous Orders, or Alternatively, for Modification of Previous Orders. (ECF No. 129). Hope states that it is still subject to the obligations imposed by the Davis Decree and that participation in school choice would have a segregative impact on Hope, thereby causing it to violate the Davis Decree. Accordingly, Hope states that it has a conflict with taking part in school choice pursuant to the 2017 Act. Hope seeks, through various alternative means of relief, a finding that it is prohibited from taking part in school choice and/or a declaration that portions of the 2017 Act are unconstitutional. On May 22, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a response supporting the instant motion. (ECF No. 132).

         On May 23, 2018, the Court issued an order certifying Hope's constitutional challenge and sending notice to the Arkansas Attorney General's Office pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.1(b). (ECF No. 134). On June 15, 2018, the ADE and SBE filed a motion to intervene in this case for the limited purpose of opposing the instant motion. (ECF No. 142). On June 22, 2018, the Court held a status conference in which Hope, Plaintiffs, and counsel from the Arkansas Attorney General's Office participated. On July 2, 2018, the Court granted the ADE and SBE's motion to intervene, thereby allowing those parties to intervene for ...


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