ST. MARTINVILLE, La. (KLFY) — In a ruling released Thursday, Aug. 11, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the closure of Catahoula Elementary School in the St. Martinville public school system.
The school’s closure was ordered in 2021 by the U.S. Western District of Louisiana as part of a 54-year court battle over desegregation in St. Martin Parish. U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote ordered the closure in 2021, finding the school district failed to treat black students and black teachers equally, as well as failed to address racial inequity in academic achievement. Catahoula Elementary’s population had a majority of white students. Upon closure of the school, students were instead sent to Early Learning Center and St. Martinville Primary.
In this week’s ruling, the 5th Circuit stated that the Western District “abused its discretion” in closing Catahoula Elementary.
“There’s no doubt that closing Catahoula Elementary School was a harsh remedy,” stated the 5th Circuit’s ruling, which can be read in its entirety at the bottom of this post. “…For several reasons, we doubt whether this extreme remedy was ‘absolutely necessary’ to achieve desegregation.”
The 5th Circuit’s ruling stated that the Western District should have explored alternative solutions, ignoring “other potentially workable and feasible proposals.” The court also noted that St. Martin Parish School Board experts were already noting that with more Black families moving into Catahoula Elementary’s attendance zone, desegregation was slowly working itself out.
“[I]n 2015, the district court ordered the School Board to create new student attendance zones,” stated the ruling. “These new zones accelerated the desegregation progress—the percentage of Black students in Catahoula Elementary School increased between 2015 and 2021, as did the percentage of white students in St. Martinville Primary and the Early Learning Center. Although the numbers fell outside the agreed-upon goal range, these statistics nevertheless indicate improvement without the extreme remedy of a school closure, five decades into the court’s supervision of this case.”
Why was the school closed?
The issue at hand goes back to the 1960s, when lawsuits were brought against most Louisiana school districts for being unconstitutionally segregated. Those lawsuits were brought in the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
In 1974, a federal court moved St. Martin Parish’s case to an inactive docket, where it sat until 2009, when it was assigned to a new judge, who revived the case. The School Board attempted to have the case thrown out, but courts ruled that even though the case had been moved to the inactive docket, the 1974 order hadn’t really been a final order. That meant the School Board had to return to the drawing board to figure out how to best desegregate its school system.
Though the school district has asked the courts to grant it “unitary status” — which means a state of desegregation — this week’s ruling finds that the district still has not met that standard. The 5th Circuit agreed with the Western District that St. Martin Parish has not met the standard, but disagreed with the Western District that closing Catahoula Elementary would solve the problem effectively.
We’ve contacted the St. Martin Parish School Board for comment, though no statement has been released yet.
This is a breaking story. More information will be posted here as it becomes available.