Valley v. Rapides Parish School Bd., 81-3462

Decision Date30 March 1983
Docket NumberNo. 81-3462,81-3462
Citation702 F.2d 1221
Parties10 Ed. Law Rep. 29 Virgie Lee VALLEY, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, United States of America, Intervenor-Appellee, v. RAPIDES PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, et al., Defendants-Appellants, and Clyde Holloway, et al., Intervenors-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

John F. Ward, Jr., Robert L. Hammonds, Baton Rouge, La., for Rapides Parish School Bd.

Christopher Roy, Alexandria, La., Paul R. Baier, Baton Rouge, La., for Clyde Holloway et al.

Louis Berry, Alexandria, for Valley et al.

Franz R. Marshall, Gen. Litigation Section, Civil Rights Div., Dennis J. Dimsey, William Bradford Reynolds, Brian K. Landsberg, Appellate Section, Civ. Rights Div., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., for the U.S.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Before CLARK, Chief Judge, POLITZ and RANDALL, Circuit Judges.

POLITZ, Circuit Judge:

For the sixth time we review an aspect of the litigation, initiated in 1965, involving the desegregation of the public schools in Rapides Parish, Louisiana. In Valley v. Rapides Parish School Board, 646 F.2d 925 (5th Cir.1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 939, 102 S.Ct. 1430, 71 L.Ed.2d 650 (1982) (Rapides I ), we affirmed the finding and conclusion by the district court 1 that the vestiges of a state-imposed dual school system had not been fully eradicated, sanctioning most components of the remedial program fashioned by the district court. We reversed in part and remanded in order that the district court might reconsider and, if re-imposed, explain in greater detail that portion of its order directing the closure of Lincoln Williams a predominantly black K-8 school in Cheneyville, and the closure of the predominantly white K-8 school in Forest Hill, coupled with the transfer of students from these two schools to an elementary and middle school in Lecompte, a community located midway between Cheneyville and Forest Hill.

Following a post-remand evidentiary hearing, the district court reviewed and rejected various alternatives proposed by the parties and readopted its original plan. On appeal, the school board and Forest Hill intervenors 2 focus their attack on the court's refusal to reopen the Forest Hill Elementary School. Concluding that the remedy imposed was commensurate with the constitutional violation, we affirm.

Background Facts

A detailed exposition of the factual and procedural history of this protracted litigation is set forth in our earlier opinion, reported at 646 F.2d 945. Our review today focuses on the legality of the district court's solution to the thorny problem presented by the continued existence of Lincoln Williams as a virtually all-black school (92.9%). In its earlier assessment, the district court found no white students available in the Cheneyville area to desegregate Lincoln Williams, and elected to close the school and reassign its pupils to Lecompte Elementary (K-3) and Carter Raymond Junior High (4-8), both in Lecompte. 499 F.Supp. 490. At the same time the court determined to reassign the student population of Forest Hill, with a minority enrollment of 8.3%, to the two Lecompte schools. Aside from Lecompte's central location, the district court cited no supportive reasons for the transfer of Forest Hill students to Lecompte and concomitant closure of that educational facility. 3

In directing the district court to consider the various alternatives to the dismantling of Lincoln Williams and Forest Hill, and, in the event the court adhered to its 1980 decision, to explain the bases for rejecting such alternatives, we stated:

We cannot lend our sanction so easily, however, to those portions of the plan involving pupils and facilities in Wards 3 and 4. Here, as we have described, the district court elected to close a predominantly white rural school, Forest Hill, and a predominantly black school, Lincoln Williams, equidistant in different directions from the town of Lecompte, and to transfer their pupils to Lecompte schools. As far as we can determine, the only justification for closing Lincoln Williams was its predominance of black pupils. The court admitted that Forest Hill is more modern than Lecompte Elementary, but described the latter as having "much better location for purposes of integration," in terms of distance for busing of reassigned pupils. Alternatives are only sparingly mentioned.

These findings are an insufficient factual basis on which to approve the closing of Forest Hill and Lincoln Williams. Equally effective alternatives may exist which would avoid the closing of a modern facility and the intercommunity transfer of kindergarten pupils. These should be explored on remand and, if the district court adheres to its present plan, specific reasons for their rejection should be given. We cannot ignore the district court's disregard of neighborhood considerations for rural schools in this context.... Specific desegregation measures in southeastern Rapides Parish should be re-examined in light of the full range of mitigating equitable considerations.

646 F.2d at 940-41.

On remand, the district court received additional evidence from the Forest Hill intervenors, reviewed the various proposals submitted, and reinstated the student assignments for the Poland, Cheneyville, Lecompte and Forest Hill communities. 4 The trial judge reiterated his conviction that the dismantling of Lincoln Williams and the assimilation of its pupils into the Lecompte schools was the only reasonable alternative to perpetuation of Lincoln Williams as a racially identifiable school. Determined to effect an equitable distribution of the burden of desegregation, the district court remained convinced that Forest Hill's students should also be assigned to the Lecompte schools.

Having previously decided in Rapides I that the constitutionally mandated goal of educational unitization has not been achieved in Rapides Parish, 5 we need only address the appropriateness of the remedy ordered.

Guidons

Failure on the part of school authorities to implement a constitutionally prescribed unitary school system brings into play the full panoply of the trial court's remedial power. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1, 91 S.Ct. 1267, 28 L.Ed.2d 554 (1971); Rapides I. To discharge this weighty responsibility, the court is obliged to expunge from the public schools all vestiges of unlawful segregation. Swann; Lee v. Macon County Board of Education, 616 F.2d 805 (5th Cir.1980); United States v. DeSoto Parish School Board, 574 F.2d 804 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 982, 99 S.Ct. 571, 58 L.Ed.2d 653 (1978).

When reviewing a trial court's desegregation remedy, we are limited to ascertaining whether the court abused its discretion. See Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267, 97 S.Ct. 2749, 53 L.Ed.2d 745 (1977); Swann. We are mindful that "the scope of a district court's equitable power to remedy past wrongs is broad, for breadth and flexibility are inherent in equitable remedies." Swann, 402 U.S. at 15, 91 S.Ct. at 1276. See United States v. DeSoto Parish School Board. Although "free to re-assess the district court's conclusions of law, its findings of fact must be accepted unless they are clearly erroneous." Ross v. Houston Independent School Dist., 699 F.2d 218, 226 (5th Cir.1983), (citing Pullman-Standard v. Swint, --- U.S. ----, 102 S.Ct. 1781, 72 L.Ed.2d 66 (1982)).

A trial judge's insight into local conditions is to be accorded substantial deference. While the remedy fashioned by the court "may be administratively awkward, inconvenient, and even bizarre" in some cases, "and may impose burdens on some ... all awkwardness and inconvenience cannot be avoided in the interim period when remedial adjustments are being made to eliminate the dual school systems." Swann, 402 U.S. at 28, 91 S.Ct. at 1282.

Appellate review of the district court's exercise of its broad discretion in formulating a desegregation plan is guided by the tripartite analysis set forth in Milliken. Consistent with Milliken 's teachings, a remedial order must be carefully tailored to correct the constitutionally infirm condition, restore the victims of segregation to the positions they would have enjoyed absent the proscribed conduct, and, where congruent with constitutional precepts, accommodate the interest of school officials in administering their affairs without judicial interference.

Lincoln Williams

It is axiomatic that the existence of a few racially homogeneous schools within a school system is not per se offensive to the Constitution. Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman, 433 U.S. 406, 97 S.Ct. 2766, 53 L.Ed.2d 851 (1977); United States v. DeSoto Parish School Board; United States v. Seminole County School District, 553 F.2d 992 (5th Cir.1977). The retention of all-black or virtually all-black schools within a dual system is nonetheless unacceptable where reasonable alternatives may be implemented. United States v. DeSoto Parish School Board; Lemon v. Bossier Parish School Bd., 566 F.2d 985 (5th Cir.1978). See Price v. Denison Indept. School Dist., 694 F.2d 334 (5th Cir.1982).

Various plans approved by the district court over the long history of this litigation did not realize one of their primary goals: desegregation of the Cheneyville schools. The court's attempt in 1975 to accomplish this objective by closing the majority white Cheneyville High School (K-12), and assigning all children residing in Cheneyville to Lincoln Williams proved unsuccessful because of an exodus of white pupils. On original hearing, and again on remand, the district court concluded that this constitutionally impermissible condition could not be remedied by pairing or clustering with the school in Poland, the only accessible "white" school. 6 Absent a pool of available white students, the court opted to reassign students living east of Cheneyville to Poland, which was reduced to a K-6 facility,...

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