Avoyelles School District desegregation case should end soon

Plaintiff, Justice Department agree schools are desegregated

A few hours before the Avoyelles School Board’s monthly meeting last Tuesday (Oct. 2), the final domino fell. The U.S. Justice Department said it will not oppose the ending of the desegregation case against the public school system.

“This is huge,” Superintendent Blaine Dauzat told board members. “This is historic.”

The board adopted a resolution instructing District Attorney Charles Riddle to file a motion asking the federal court to dismiss the suit and declare the school system “has eliminated all vestiges of segregation” based on the race of students.

“This is a big deal,” Dauzat said, noting that he cannot over-emphasize the importance of the event being discussed.

He said Allen Holmes, the intervenor in the 1987 action against the board, has already consented to closing the case. With the Justice Department’s consent on Oct. 2, all parties to the suit “agree that the school system has done everything possible to eliminate segregation in the Avoyelles Parish schools,” Dauzat said.

The superintendent said that once U.S. District Judge Dee Drell dismisses the case -- which could be soon -- board members will no longer have to seek permission from the federal court for certain projects and programs in the district’s schools.

“You will become the Avoyelles Parish School Board in every sense of the word,” he added.

Riddle noted that when the desegregation case is dismissed, it “does not mean you can forget everything” that was hammered out in the desegregation consent decree.

“Everything stays in place and will continue to take place just as it is now,” Riddle said.

The big difference will be that there will be no requirement for court approval or oversight of the board’s decisions.

Board member Van Kojis told his colleagues he doesn’t want the board “to be put back in this situation in the future. “

He said the board must be careful not to take any action that might cause re-segregation in the schools.

Board President John Gagnard thanked Riddle for the years of work he and his staff have committed to the desegregation plan and the road to unitary status.

Board Vice President Mike Lacombe also thanked Riddle “for all the work you did. This was one of our goals when many of us were elected to the board eight years ago.”

Riddle accepted the thanks, but noted “there were a lot of people responsible,” including superintendents, board members and Central Office staff.

After the meeting, Dauzat said he is looking forward to the final dismissal of the case.

While there may not be any immediate dramatic changes in the way the school system operates, “it does mean that the School Board members don’t have to run to the judge whenever they want to do something in the best interests of the children in the parish schools,” Dauzat said. “It puts the decision back in the hands of the board -- and, really, back in the hands of the people, who elect the board members.”

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