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Decades Later, Black Students Still Facing Court Battle to Desegregate Little Rock Schools

A federal judge is reviewing a legal deal that would put an end to programs and state funding aimed at desegregating schools in Little Rock, Ark., although there is still much more work to do to create true educational equality in those school districts.

As of Monday, the judge began reviewing a complex lawsuit over the inequities in education in Little Rock.

The legal battle is taking place between the state, the Little Rock School District and a group of lawyers and attorneys who represent Black students in the Little Rock School District.

While the legal team for the state is pushing for current desegregation funding to be lifted, the schools have not changed much since the South’s violent reaction to Brown v. Board of Education back in 1957, when nine Black students were met by an angry mob of whites when they tried to enter the newly integrated Central High School.

Arkansas Times political columnist Ernest Dumas said that the legislation to desegregate the schools has still not served its full purpose over all these years.

“The Supreme Court said at the time that you’ve got to desegregate and end these disparities and take us forward to a glorious day when education will be equal for all Americans,” he said. “As we know, in Little Rock and the rest of the South and the rest of the country, it hasn’t really happened quite that way.”

Despite hope that the schools would now house a diverse and successful student body, white families simply chose to leave the Little Rock School District and ultimately formed a ring of predominantly white, suburban schools just outside the Little Rock district lines.

Desegregation of Little Rock schools As for the predominantly African-American schools within Little Rock, which are 66 percent Black, more than half of the student body has free or reduced-priced lunches and are underperforming in the classrooms.

If the federal judge rules against keeping the desegregation legislation, all of the programs that are currently aimed at creating equal educational opportunities within Little Rock will fade away, and the state will no longer have to make its current payments of about $70 million to the schools.

That money currently helps fund educational programs to attract affluent white students while also including programs that provide poorer African-American students with better opportunities in the classroom.

“This is not a joyful day for African-American people in America,” said attorney John Walker who represents Black students in the Little Rock desegregation case.

Walker said that no substantial progress has been made in the school districts other  than there are currently no laws that allow schools to be segregated based on race.

Pulaski County Superintendent Jerry Guess believes the school district still needs the aid that the legislation offers, but that money alone won’t be able to fix the problem.

“I have had a lot of people comment about their kids going to schools where Black students are, and not wanting to,” Guess said. “And I believe that’s still, unfortunately, a truth about human nature.”

The extra funding won’t be enough to put an end to racism in the district, but other school officials are hoping that keeping the desegregation funding will still help Little Rock schools move in the right direction.

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