School stock

A federal court has indicated that one of the nation's longest-running desegregation cases is drawing to a close, the Tangipahoa School System said.

U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle granted provisional unitary status to the Tangipahoa Parish School System on Wednesday, 56 years after the district was sued by a man on behalf of his then-school-aged children. 

“We find that the TPSS has met its burden of establishing, among other things, that it has demonstrated a good faith commitment to complying with the court’s existing orders and setting forth a plan ... to advance toward final unitary status following a three-year probationary period,” Lemelle’s order reads.

Lamelle's 44-page order potentially ends the 1965 Joyce Marie Moore v. TPSS lawsuit, assuming the school system adheres to an agreement drafted by the plaintiffs and the schools.

“This is a day that our entire community has wanted for many, many years,” Superintendent Melissa Stilley said in a statement. “Our district has strived for decades to reach a resolution to the complaints filed by the Moore family on behalf of so many underprivileged and underserved children."

As Tangipahoa Parish's desegregation lawsuit reaches final stages, how well is the district doing?

The case, which was first filed when the system fired or demoted eight Black teachers during integration, lay dormant for decades until 2007, when the Moore family petitioned the court to reopen the suit. The family said the system's hiring practices disregarded the court’s long-standing requirement to fill new vacancies with Black candidates until at least 40 percent of teachers were Black.

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The granting of provisional unitary status restores Tangipahoa school officials' ability to act without being under court orders, a final declaration that the system has eliminated the effects of segregation. As the status is provisional, the system will be under a three year probationary period to ensure compliance.

The district has worked to increase the diversity of its teaching staff through teacher training programs, as well as addressing needs in transportation in facilities. Administrators and the plaintiffs eventually agreed that the court's original goal of 40% Black staffers was unattainable but the system had made a good faith effort to diversify the staff.

"The System’s current record of good faith and compliance cannot be ignored," Lemelle wrote.

As the system enters its probationary period, Lemelle warned that his ruling could be reversed if the system fails to comply with the agreement.

"The Board, TPSS, and the people who, in the end, govern their school system, must be aware that the door through which they enter and leave the courthouse is not locked to them. They will undoubtedly find that this is so especially if they fail to maintain the provisional grant of a unitary system we conclude exists today."

Stilley acknowledged the continued efforts the system would have to make in the coming years to finalize the case.

“This is a great day, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Stilley said. “We thank the court for their acknowledgment of our progress, and we hope to continue to find favor with not only the court but also the public and particularly the families we serve in providing fair treatment and equal access for all."