LITTLE ROCK — A federal appeals court Thursday ordered dismissal of a 2010 lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ school choice law in effect at the time, ruling that a new statute adopted by the Legislature this year rendered the case moot.
Parents of students living in the Malvern School District challenged the state’s school-choice law in 2010 after the district cited its desegregation provision in warning them to return their children who had enrolled in mostly white surrounding districts.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson ruled for the parents, saying a race-based provision in the 1989 Arkansas Public School Choice Act violated the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law.
The Legislature this year approved legislation that removed race as a factor in student transfers but exempts school districts that are under desegregation orders.
Act 1227 of 2013 also caps the number of transfers to no more than 3 percent of the student population and bars transfers that would conflict with existing desegregation orders. It requires annual monitoring reports on possible re-segregation, and it expires July 1, 2015, to allow lawmakers to review the measure.
“Without question, the General Assembly will need to address these difficult issues again in 2015 if it decides to enact a new statute extending the perceived benefits of broadly available public school transfers,” the 8th U.S. Circuit of Appeals at St. Louis said in Thursday’s unanimous decision.
The new law already has spawned litigation.
Parents and family of students in the Blytheville and Forrest City school districts have filed lawsuits against the school districts arguing that their decision to opt out of the law for the upcoming school year violated the constitutional rights of the students.
A federal judge recently denied a request for a temporary injunction against the Blytheville district.