Little Rock John Walker is the dean of civil rights lawyers in Arkansas. He sued to desegregate the Little Rock and Pulaski County School Districts and many more and kept them in court for decades. He’s still practicing and on top of that is now an elected member of the legislature in Arkansas. When the powers-that-be decided to take over the Little Rock School District even though breaking their rules and state guidelines using as the rational that a mere six of the 48 schools in the district were nonperforming, they must have known this was coming, but if they did they were either arrogant, stupid, or both. Walker and the band of dug-in progressives in Arkansas weren’t going to take this usurpation lightly and now the fur is flying and perhaps there is a nationally applicable new tool being forged: Walker’s lawsuit pointedly proves the entire takeover is simply about racial discrimination or re-segregation using charters, if you will.
The heart of the lawsuit is Walker’s contention that after decades of achieving a unitary school district for white and black students, the takeover is simply an effort to turn back the clock. His complaint charges:
This is an action to secure a remedy for the subjecting of black students enrolled in the Little Rock School District [LRSD] to intentional racial discrimination, in the period after courts held that the LRSD had achieved unitary status. This action also seeks a remedy for the state’s takeover of the LRSD and the ouster of the democratically elected LRSD Board of School Directors. Plaintiffs allege that these actions violated the United States Constitution [denial of freedom of speech, prohibited racial discrimination, conspiracy to violate rights, badge of slavery, and denial of due process of law].
Add to that, as an organizer with the former Arkansas ACORN told me in the parking lot, the lawsuit lays bare “the whole power structure of the state” and allows their own dirty work to be fully exposed in this matter. When Walker filed his suit for parents of district children and un-democratically deposed school board members, he included a number of exhibits obtained under the Freedom of Information Act which included emails and various machinations behind the scene to engineer the takeover. Max Brantley, a columnist for the weekly Arkansas Times, details clearly the fingerprints around the neck of the school district by the big whoops:
The [exhibit] is from e-mails in the account of state Board of Education member Jay Barth, a Hendrix professor and Times columnist, who was lobbied by neighbor and friend Marla Johnson, the Aristotle executive who led the Chamber’s takeover team. Though he ultimately voted against the takeover, Barth had some sympathy to the cause and laid out some points of concern in correspondence with Johnson. In these notes, Johnson reveals now-departed Superintendent Dexter Suggs’ apparent willingness to let distressed schools become charter schools, but the school district would continue responsibility for cafeteria and transportation, quite a benefit if an outside charter management group came in.
He suggested a scenario by which he possibly could support takeover. It prompted the response … from Marla Johnson. In her note, Hussman is Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which has been a constant critic of the district editorially and has had news columns heavily influenced by his school “reform” ideas. Gary Newton is the leader of two nonprofit organizations, Arkansas Learns and Arkansans for Education for Reform, funded primarily by Walton Family Foundation money. They pay Newton a combined $150,000 and pay tens of thousands more to political consultants who lobby for the Walton agenda at the legislature and elsewhere. Newton is a strident critic of the school district; has helped organize a predominantly white charter middle school in Chenal Valley that skims Little Rock students, and … on Twitter raised the question of adequate legal representation for families in majority white Northwest Little Rock who want a new middle and high school because they don’t want to attend the existing (majority black) schools elsewhere in the city….
The e-mails also include the one … from Michael Pakko an economist at UALR. His note indicates he produced statistics helpful to the takeover movement (in this case about potential reshaping of districts in the county) with guidance from U.S. Rep. French Hill, a Little Rock Republican. (UALR has since announced it would be home to expanded eStem charter school operation that could ultimately take 5,000 students out of the Little Rock School District.) It is addressed to Jay Chesshir, director of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
We all know deep in our hearts that this is what is happening in these school takeovers and suspect race is the crux of it. Rarely, do we get to see so clearly behind the closed doors. This lawsuit and the fight in Little Rock may make it harder for the dismantlers to succeed in the future around the country. It’s worth watching closely.