Hope Public Schools To Pursue “Magnet” Grant, Lawsuit Appeal

By Ken McLemore/Hope Public Schools, 09/21/21 2:45 PM

 The Hope Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously among members present in its Sept. 20 monthly meeting to retain an Oxford, Miss., consultant to seek a $15 million federal grant for the creation of a magnet school.

The board also voted unanimously to continue to pursue an appeal of its status under a 1989 federal civil consent decree in the Eighth U.S. District Court of Appeals.

The “magnet” school grant the district will seek through the services of Rachel Scott of Scott Consulting, LLC, is a five-year, $15 million provision under the federal Magnet School Assistance Program for the Spring, 2022, grant cycle.

HPS Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Crossley told the board the grant should provide the district with sufficient resources to pursue the concept.

Dr. Crossley said the creation of a “magnet” school for the HPS is part of his long-term plan for a “cradle to career” approach to public education which will make the HPS the premiere school district in Southwest Arkansas.

He said the proposal is a response to the need to stanch declining enrollment created through the “school choice” concept which has affected not only the HPS but all four districts involved in the Eighth Circuit Court appeal.

“We had a meeting with our attorney, and we are the first board to act upon this,” Crossley said. “All of this is intended to put some finality to this issue.”

He said the four districts involved, Hope, Camden-Fairview, Lafayette County, and Junction City have been severely affected by declining enrollment since the enactment of so-called “school choice” in Arkansas.

“We are looking to see if we can reinstate the desegregation order and not participate in school choice,” Crossley said.

A three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court ruled earlier this year in the appeal of Davis v. Franks that U.S. District Judge Susan O. Hickey’s extension of the 1989 civil rights consent decree was valid. But, in an Aug. 25 reversal, after the U.S. Department of Justice intervened, the panel determined that Judge Hickey exceeded her judicial discretion.

The Eighth Circuit panel upheld Hickey’s ruling in January, 2021, based upon a good faith argument by the HPS regarding racially-based impact. But, the Eighth Circuit panel said in its latest ruling that was insufficient.

“According to the school districts, modifying the consent decrees is necessary because, at the time that the decrees were entered, the parties relied on limitations that Arkansas law imposed on transfer students – specifically, either the general prohibition on transfers (in the case of Junction City), or the more limited prohibition on segregative transfers (in the case of Camden-Fairview, Hope, and Lafayette).

“But, even accepting this as true, it implicitly admits that school transfers would be a new problem for the school districts, and that the district court is expanding the scope of its supervision without an underlying Constitutional violation to justify such supervision,” the panel wrote.

The panel specifically suggests that Hickey consider granting so-called “unitary” status to the HPS.

“Given all of this, it may be wise for the district court to hold a unitary status hearing and consider removing these cases from the federal docket,” the panel wrote.

In other actions, the board:

–Adopted a $22.1 million tax budget that projects a positive ending balance of $4.5 million and creates some $800,000 in savings generated by uses of federal ESSER funding related to COVID-19 response.

–Discussed the possibility of a revision to the district’s face mask policy, pending improved COVID-19 positive rate and quarantine rate data. Crossley said a recommendation will be brought to the board in October.

–Adopted a revised district dental insurance plan benefit to level the benefit across employee categories.

–Adopted a resolution to provide a $4,000 per semester stipend for the HPS COVID-19 Point of Contact and to provide all district nurses a $2,000 per semester stipend for COVID-19 work. The payments will be made from federal ESSER COVID-19 response funds and are for the 2021-2022 academic year only.

–Renewed the district policy regarding COVID-19 leave.

–Adopted the annual district minority recruitment plan.

–Approved a contract with White River Services and Solutions for internet wiring at Clinton Primary School.

–Tabled a facilities rental request for further investigation.