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Judge: Desegregation order doesn't bar student transfers

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A judge has ruled that the enrollment of Forrest City School District students by the nearby Palestine-Wheatley and Wynne school districts does not violate Forrest City's federal desegregation order.

The Palestine-Wheatley and Wynne districts have been enrolling students under the state's school-choice laws. The judge's ruling, which was handed down Monday, enables students living in the Forrest City district to continue to attend public schools in other districts or seek transfers to other districts in accordance with state laws.

The Forrest City school district claimed in an August 2014 lawsuit that student transfers to neighboring districts were not permitted because of a long-standing desegregation order. The Forrest City school district sought nearly $5 million in state aid that was diverted from the district to Palestine-Wheatley and Wynne school districts for educating about 70 students a year who within the Forrest City district boundaries.

There are 18 Arkansas school districts, including Forrest City, that have claimed exemptions from school-choice laws because of desegregation obligations.

The Palestine-Wheatley and Wynne school districts had accepted fifth through 12th grade students for the 2014-15 school year under the state's Opportunity Choice act that allows students to transfer from schools that are in academic distress.

Lincoln Middle Academy of Excellence, Forrest City Junior High School and Forrest City High School are all under academic distress

Forrest City School District attorney Brad Beavers told the Times-Herald newspaper that district officials are disappointed with the ruling, and did not rule out an appeal or future state court action.

John Estes, the superintendent for the Palestine-Wheatley district, told the newspaper that officials expected the ruling and are happy with the outcome.

"We always try to follow the law to the best of our ability and that is what we have done in this instance. It is frustrating to have to go through the court process, but we are pleased with the decision of by the court.

Wynne's superintendent, Carl Easley, said "It's a relief. Anytime someone is suing you there is a possibility that you could lose, and the dollar figure that was being sought was only increasing. We're just happy this is behind us."

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