Several members of the Tangipahoa School Board expressed relief Friday at the apparent deal struck in the system’s 46-year-old desegregation suit.
One member, however, was disappointed that the proposed plan takes more than 500 students from schools in Loranger and splits them between Hammond and Amite schools.
The deal averted the need for a Friday hearing in which U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle was to hear arguments on several motions including competing desegregation plans, motions for sanction of the board and superintendent, and a School Board petition for partial unitary status in student activities.
“Absolutely I am relieved,” said Al Link, who has been on the board since 1999. “I have been involved since Day One, and there has been a lot of anxiety.”
Link began in the Tangipahoa School System as a teacher in 1963 and was elected to the board in 1998, he said.
The desegregation case was filed in 1965.
Other members echoed Link’s sentiments.
“I was so relieved,” Board President Rose Dominguez said. “We just didn’t really know what the judge was going to do.”
“I think it’s a victory for the people of Tangipahoa,” said Brett Duncan. “We have a plan that will get us to unitary status.”
The compromise became necessary after voters overwhelmingly rejected four school tax proposals on the April 30 ballot.
Those proposals were part of a plan the court approved in March 2010.
When the tax proposals failed, many feared Lemelle would order the board to impose a tax or force a busing plan on the parish.
“I think it was a real danger,” said Duncan, who is a lawyer.
Not all board members were pleased about the deal.
“I am not happy with it because of what is going to happen to Loranger,” said Sandra Bailey-Simmons. “We have been the sacrificial lamb on this thing.”
Under the plan, children from the Loranger schools would be bused to Amite and Hammond.
The plan would affect approximately 560 Loranger students, Bailey-Simmons said.
The compromise was reached late Thursday afternoon between attorneys for the School Board and the plaintiffs in the case, Patin said.
The parties met in a status conference before Judge Lemelle Friday morning, and the judge gave initial approval to the plan, Patin said.
A full draft of the compromise has not been written, Patin said.
But Lemelle did order the compromise to be presented to the full board within 30 days, Patin said.
Lemelle also ordered the motion to be filed with the court no later than Aug. 8, court documents show.
Under the terms of the compromise, the school system is granted conditional unitary status in the area of student activities, Patin said.
The court will continue to monitor the school system’s compliance in student activities for one year before finally signing off.
The judge gave an initial go-ahead to the magnet programs in the parish, something plaintiffs’ attorney Nelson Taylor had called a “discriminatory hiring practice.”
In a motion that was to be heard Friday, Taylor had asked Lemelle to sanction Superintendent Mark Kolwe and the board for ignoring concerns court-appointed compliance officer Arlene Guerin had about magnet teacher hiring procedures.
“It was a major victory that the judge left the magnet hiring alone,” Duncan said. “It would have devastated the whole process if he would have made us go back and redo it.”
Lemelle did issue a stern warning to the parties against doing anything that might cause them to be in contempt.
Each contempt violation will result in a $5,000 fine and $1,000 fine for each day the violation exists, the minutes from the status conference show.
The penalties apply to “all parties as a whole as well as to an individual party in their individual capacity or official capacity,” the minutes show.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan in June quashed subpoenas issued by the defense to Duncan and Simmons after plaintiffs’ attorney Taylor accused them of being in contempt for comments they made in the run-up to the April 30 election.