No resolution yet, in charter school desegregation case

December 12, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court is returning a dispute over a Louisiana charter school back to a district court, leaving open questions about how the 2-year-old school is affected by a 51-year-old desegregation order.

The case involves Greater Grace Academy, one of a growing number of public schools operated by independent authorities with permission from state or local education authorities. Greater Grace is in St. James Parish, but it was chartered by the state education board, rather than the local school board. The local system, like numerous Southern school districts, remains under a longstanding desegregation order dating back to the 1960s.

Plaintiffs in the 1960s case say a federal judge should not have allowed Greater Grace Academy to open in St. James because the school drew a mostly black enrollment — estimated at 93 percent African-American when the school opened — in a district still working to fully desegregate. They say that the school is covered by the federal court desegregation order under state law.

Greater Grace’s lawyers noted that the school has a non-discrimination policy and is open to students from anywhere in the state. They question in their briefs whether such a school can legally be made to comply with a desegregation order applying to the St. James system alone.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday declined to rule on whether U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman erred in allowing Greater Grace to open. Rather, the case was sent back to Feldman for further examination of complex legal issues involving Greater Grace’s status in the 1960s case. It was unclear Wednesday whether Feldman will hold further hearings in the case.

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