Activists and civil rights groups in Arkansas are protesting a state plan that they say would lead to the resegregation of public schools in the capital city of Little Rock, 62 years after the Little Rock Nine integrated the district.
The Little Rock School District has been under the control of the Arkansas Department of Education since 2015, when six of the district’s 48 schools were found to be struggling academically, CNN affiliate KATV reports.
If the district hasn’t improved enough by January 2020 to meet certain exit criteria, the state education department has a proposal to deal with the district’s lower performing schools. Each school in the district would get a letter grade, from A to F. School with grades D or above would be returned to the control of the Little Rock School District. Schools graded F would still be subject to state control.
The schools that would remain under the control of the state Department of Education are majority-minority, and that’s unsettling to some who feel the proposed division would lead to defacto segregation, in a city still bearing the scars of the Central High desegregation crisis of the 1950s.
The divide is racial
“We don’t want to go back to 1957. We don’t want a resegregated Little Rock School District. No one wants that. We need a unified school district in which all parents, educators and community members have a say in how our children are educated,” Loriee Evans, a member of the progressive organization Indivisible of Little Rock and Central Arkansas, told KATV. “The fact that the board of education has designated certain schools that would continue under state control is another form of segregation. The schools that would remain under state control have mostly brown and black students,”
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. has also pushed back on the state’s plan, calling for all schools in the district to be returned to local control in January. The leader of the state board of education seemed receptive to Scott.
“I appreciate Mayor Scott’s proposal and thoughtful approach to a very difficult issue, Johnny Key, commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, said in a statement. “This is the kind of input the State Board members hoped to receive when they asked for community feedback on the next steps for LRSD. I am open to having conversations with the State Board about the proposal to find areas of agreement while balancing the responsibility of the state.”
The state board will discuss the proposal during a meeting on Thursday.
A vigil is planned at Central High
A number of organizations opposed to the move will hold a candlelight vigil Wednesday night at Little Rock’s historic Central High School. The school became a flashpoint in the civil rights movement in 1957 when nine black students – now known as the Little Rock Nine – integrated the then-all-white school.
Then-Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, in defiance of a federal court order desegregating schools, called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent them from entering.
In response, President Dwight D. Eisenhower mobilized the Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort the nine students into Central High and desegregate the school.