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New magnet school in historically Black school zone, step to resolve 1965 desegregation suit

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Authorities in a southwest Louisiana school district have agreed to develop a magnet school in a historically Black school zone to draw students of all races from across the district in a step toward resolving a desegregation lawsuit dating back to 1965.

The agreement, or “consent decree” involving the St. Martin Parish School District and the U.S. Justice Department was approved last week by U.S. District Judge Erny Foote in Lafayette.

Magnet schools are designed to offer specialized courses aimed at drawing a variety of students from a broad area.

“Under the consent decree, the school district will promote student transfers to advance desegregation and work with the Justice Department and private plaintiffs to develop a robust magnet school, with the goal of attracting a diverse student body and desegregating a historically Black school zone,” the Justice Department said in a Monday news release.

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A new magnet school in a historically Black zone is a stepping in the right direction to resolve the 1965 desegregation suit.

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After the magnet school plan is implemented, the school system can apply for a court declaration that it has achieved “unitary status” for its admissions policies after the 2025-2026 school year. Unitary status means a set of schools have eliminated the effects of historic segregation. If, 45 days after the request, all parties and the court agree, the district’s admission process could be deemed unitary.

Even then, it would not mean a complete end to the lawsuit.

“Several other areas of this case remain open and are subject to the court’s continuing jurisdiction, including possible attendance zone modifications, the desegregation of faculty and the issues of discipline and graduation pathways,” Monday’s Justice Department statement said. “The court will retain jurisdiction over the consent order during its implementation, and the department will monitor the district’s compliance.”

The 1965 St. Martin case is one of many school desegregation cases that have lingered since days of the Civil Rights Movement. The Justice Department is a party in 14 other such cases in Louisiana and more than 130 cases nationwide.

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