Ascension Parish schools win discrimination case

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GONZALES, La. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that the public school assignment plan on the east bank of Ascension Parish does not discriminate against minority students or deny them educational opportunities offered to other students in the parish.

The Advocate reports ( ) the ruling, issued last week, settles a 6-year-old civil rights lawsuit filed against the school board by Darrin Kenny Lewis Sr., the father of two black children who were once in the East Ascension High School feeder system.

In a 41-page ruling dissecting the plaintiffs' case, which was the subject of a three-day bench trial in February, U.S. District Chief Judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge found the plaintiffs' evidence of discrimination wanting and ruled for the School Board, upholding the parish's school assignment plan.

"Here, the record evidence casts considerable doubt on Lewis's allegation that Option 2f has resulted in unequal educational opportunities for nonwhite students in the East Ascension High School attendance zone," Jackson wrote.

He dismissed the suit with prejudice, which means it cannot be refiled.

School Superintendent Patrice Pujol said Friday that school officials are pleased with the judge's ruling.

Amid controversy, the school board adopted the assignment plan on a 6-4 vote in January 2008 to handle growth pressures in the Dutchtown High School feeder system and, as school officials said then, maintain "unitary status."

In 2004, a federal court ruled the system had attained unitary status and dismissed it from a long-standing desegregation suit.

But Lewis, who sued originally in state court in March 2008 before the lawsuit was moved to federal court, alleged that board members improperly considered race in setting district lines and modifying exclusive high school feeder systems.

Lewis maintained that the system resulted in a larger proportion of minority and low-income students at East Ascension High than in the feeder systems of neighboring Dutchtown and St. Amant high schools.

R. Ryland Percy III, lead plaintiff's attorney, said the opinion came out late Thursday and he had not reviewed it fully yet.

But he said he is not ashamed of working for more than six years on a case that tried to change the fact that the East Ascension feeder system is composed entirely of Title I schools while the St. Amant and Dutchtown feeder systems do not have one.

"Unfortunately, the judge found there is not a judicial remedy for that situation," he said Friday.


Information from: The Advocate,

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