The St. Mary Parish School Board has been involved in a desegregation case since 1965, when Plaintiffs filed to terminate state-ordered segregation. In 1975, the United States District Court entered an order stating that, if no objections were made within 30 days, the District would be declared unitary. No objections were filed by the Plaintiffs, but the case was not dismissed by the Court. Instead, the case was placed on the Court’s inactive docket.
In 2008, after more than 25 years of inactivity, the District Court issued an opinion concluding that the case should be closed because of the 1975 order; however, the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) responded that the case should not be closed because no judgment had been entered. This exact legal issue was litigated in the St. Martin desegregation case, and both the District Court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the DOJ position that a case is not over until a judgment of dismissal is signed by the Court. Because no judgment of dismissal was ever signed by the Court in this case, the District was forced to start over its quest for unitary status in 2018 when the DOJ began to investigate the status of the District’s operations.
Since the inception of the case in 1965, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (“LDF”) has represented the Plaintiff class (those black students attending District schools). Once notified that the DOJ had revived the case, the LDF entered to continue that representation. Subsequently, the Court determined that the United States was not a real party in this case but only “amicus curiae” and limited the DOJ’s involvement to observing and presenting position statements only.
The Board’s desegregation legal team has continued to work with the Administration to move the case toward finality. The goal of the Board and the Administration is to demonstrate to the Plaintiffs and, ultimately, to the Court that the District has met its constitutional obligation to remove any remnant of the old state-law-enforced segregation by complying with the active orders regarding student assignment, faculty and staff assignment, extracurricular activities, transportation, and facilities.
The case is currently stayed - that is, activities are suspended temporarily - pending resolution of discovery issues that arose during the investigation process. Additionally, the District Court has not yet ruled on a motion filed by the Louisiana Attorney General seeking to be permitted to enter the case as “amicus” with the same role as the United States DOJ.
Once the pending issues are resolved, the District Court will lift the stay and the case will move forward. While it is impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy how long it will take to obtain a signed judgment of dismissal in this case, the Board is committed to continuing to work cooperatively and in good faith to ensure that its desegregation obligations are met and that the litigation will be resolved in the best interest of its students, employees, and communities at the earliest possible date.
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