LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Board of Education is requiring four school districts to participate in interdistrict student transfers, despite worries that students crossing district lines will result in “white flight.”
The board decided Thursday to uphold a decision made earlier this year to deny Public School Choice Act exemptions to Hope, Junction City, Lafayette County and Camden Fairview districts, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported .
District leaders pursued the transfer law exemptions on the argument that white parents in districts with a substantially black student enrollment may be racially motivated to transfer their children to neighboring, largely white school districts.
“While I’m not here to judge what is in the hearts of men, I do know that I sit across the desk from countless parents who come in and request to go to schools that are all much whiter,” said Bobby Hart, superintendent of the Hope district, which is 30 percent Hispanic and nearly 50 percent black. “I push on ‘why?’ Not once has it been about academics. It’s disheartening.”
Districts that are side-by-side will have a greater racial divide with the denial of exemptions, said Whitney Moore, an attorney for the districts. Moore cited Arkansas data showing that more than 90 percent of the over 14,000 students participating in school-choice transfers in the 2016-17 school year were white. Less than 8 percent were black, although black students make up 20 percent of the overall student population in Arkansas.
Education Department attorney Mary Claire Hyatt cautioned against basing a decision on speculation or fear.
The districts are now expected to challenge the state decision in federal court.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com