OPELOUSAS — The St. Landry Parish School Board met in closed session for 90 minutes Tuesday to discuss possible legal options in a federal court desegregation case considered to have been closed in 2011.
Board Attorney Bob Hammonds said the board requested a meeting with him to go over potential strategies as the five-year monitoring period comes to a close at the end of the 2015-16 school year. During that five-year period, the federal courts have been monitoring the district’s progress on facilities and student assignments.
The board took no action Tuesday after reconvening into open session.
Before going into closed session, the board voted 12-1 to have Personnel Director Matthew Scuggins, Curriculum Director Claudia Blanchard, Finance Director Tressa Miller, Assistant Superintendent Joseph Cassimere and Superintendent Edward Brown remain for the closed session.
Board member Roger Young cast the “no” vote on the matter.
Hammonds began handling the district’s legal issues in November when longtime Board Attorney Gerard Caswell resigned after he was elected a state district judge.
Caswell, Hammonds said, had handled the board’s case in U.S. District Court. At that time, the school district, U.S. Judge Tucker Melancon and representatives from the U.S. Justice Department signed a consent agreement, which Hammonds said essentially declares St. Landry had gained unitary status.
“It appears to me that (Melancon) signed off on the case as long as the school system followed his orders on facilities and student assignment,” Hammonds said.
He said Melancon, who is now a senior U.S. judge residing in another state, originally set out six factors that needed to be achieved for the desegregation case to be settled.
“Four of those six had been met, according to the way I read the agreement. It also stated that the district would be considered in compliance with the court order as long as it dealt with facilities and where students were attending schools,” Hammonds said.
“The judge (Melancon) particularly was concerned in the agreement about having the (biomedical) magnet school at Opelousas High, the cultural arts school in Opelousas and the training school near Opelousas continuing to draw students from the entire parish,” Hammonds said.
At the time the agreement was approved by the board, the school district also would comply with a Melancon stipulation to remove all portable buildings from school campuses.
Since then, the board has approved the construction of permanent classroom buildings at Park Vista Elementary and recently approved building classrooms at Leonville Elementary.
The board also is considering how to handle the renovation of Palmetto Elementary.
In April, the board approved spending $94,000 to house the students in temporary classrooms as the construction at Palmetto continues.
“Five years is a long time to operate in a court status that has gone unchanged,” Hammonds said. “If the board wants to do anything about that, they will have to go back to court and take up the matter there.”
Hammonds said there were some questions by the board on Tuesday about changing attendance zones designated in the 2011 agreement.
The current board has only three members — Huey Wyble, Kyle Boss and Young — who were serving at the time the 2011 agreement was approved by the district.
Melancon’s handling of the case included redrawing school attendance zones and allowing students to transfer to schools in which they were racial minorities, and providing transportation for students who desired that option.
The case also involved balancing students and faculties more equally along racial lines.
Hammonds said the district has continued to abide by the ruling, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the 2015-16 school session.