A federal judge has approved a plan to shift school attendance zones in St. Martin Parish to help resolve a decadesold desegregation case.
The St. Martin Parish School Board, the U.S. Justice Department and attorneys for residents challenging racial imbalance in parish schools filed a proposed agreement last week carving out new attendance zones for schools in Catahoula, St. Martinville, Breaux Bridge and Parks.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote approved the plan with minor revisions late Thursday, according to a statement issued through the law firm representing the School Board.
Details of the revisions were not known as of Friday because the order had not been filed into the court record.
“Last night, Judge Foote approved a version of the consent order that included minor revisions to the implementing provisions but did not change the attendance zone modifications, which formed the foundation of the plan,” Pamela Dill, attorney for the school system, told KATC-TV.
The desegregation plan focuses on communities where schools have the most notable racial imbalance: Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville, which are majority black, and Catahoula and Parks, which are majority white.
The desegregation plan as proposed would not affect pre-K through first grade in Catahoula.
Some students from the St. Martinville area would attend Catahoula Elementary in second through fifth grades, and students in Catahoula would shift to St. Martinville Junior High for sixth through eighth grades. No change would be made for ninth through 12th grades because there is no high school in Catahoula, and students from there already attend other high schools.
In the Parks area, some students in pre-K through eighth grades would be reassigned to Breaux Bridge Primary, Breaux Bridge Elementary and Breaux Bridge Junior High.
Several parents in Catahoula and Parks had spoken out against the plan.
The changes approved by Foote will go into effect next school year, and the School Board will begin publicizing the new zones after the court order is finalized.
A written statement from the School Board’s law firm urges “the public to respect the court’s decision and support the district as it moves forward to comply with its desegregation obligations.”
St. Martin Parish officials had for years thought the desegregation case — originally filed in 1965 — was closed in 1974.
But the Justice Department and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund began pushing about six years ago to revive the litigation, arguing it had never been officially resolved and that the school system should still be under federal oversight.
Foote ruled in 2012 that the case remains open, citing ambiguities in the 1974 court ruling the School Board thought had closed the case.
Foote’s ruling this week does not end the case, but it resolves one of the major issues.