Little Rock school struggle continues in two courts | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Little Rock school struggle continues in two courts

Posted By on Thu, Oct 8, 2015 at 11:27 AM

The Arkansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning on whether a state court lawsuit to overturn the state takeover of the Little Rock School District was barred by the state's immunity to lawsuit.

Willard Proctor, an attorney, challenging the takeover argued that the takeover statute was unconstitutional, an argument the plaintiffs had not made in the original filing in Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's court. Griffen on his own had asked for briefs on that point, but the state filed an intermediate appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court to have the case dismissed. Attorney Marion Humphrey argued that the "arbitrary and capricious" takeover made the case an exception to sovereign immunity.

Here's a link to a recording of the arguments. Justices had several questions and evinced some interest in the question of whether a state school takeover anywhere is without judicial remedy. But at least one justice, Rhonda Wood, asked questions indicating that plaintiffs may have moved to quickly without raising the constitutional challenge of the statute. Wood also said plaintiffs' objection to process were on points — such as response time — not covered in state law. She said the court didn't like to wade into legislative matters.

Proctor argued that the state had failed in several ways to comply with statutes on school takeover.

Meanwhile, the state Education Department has responded to a separate lawsuit filed in federal court yesterday seeking to reverse the takeover. It raises race discrimination arguments in the action by the state and others.

State Education Commissioner Johnny Key, one of the defendants in the new federal suit, issued this prepared statement this morning on the new suit:

"Our legal team will review the filing with the Arkansas Attorney General's Office, so it is premature at this time to comment on the veracity of the claims made by Rep. Walker, Mr. Ross, Ms. Springer and the other plaintiffs.

This we do know: Student learning occurs in the classroom, not the courtroom. To that end, this agency will remain focused on supporting Baker Kurrus and his team in improving the delivery of education to all the students of the Little Rock School District. The presentation by Mr. Burton to the State Board of Education today clearly demonstrates the urgency of this task."

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