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Appeals Court reverses Catahoula Elementary closure

Blanchard appointed Superintendent of St. Martin Parish schools
Posted at 10:13 AM, Aug 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-12 11:13:12-04

A federal appeals court commended a district judge for her dedication in overseeing a 50-year-old desegregation case, but also ruled that she went to far when she closed Catahoula Elementary school in an attempt to break long-standing segregation.

The case was sent back to the district court for "consideration of other methods of addressing that concern."

The appeals court did, however, affirm the district judge's refusal to grant St. Martin Parish unitary status.

Unitary status refers to a series of court rulings in desegregation cases that releases school system from federal oversight. Back in June 2021, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote denied St. Martin's requiest for unitary status, and ordered Catahoula Elementary School be closed. To read our story about that ruling, click here.

In the area of student assignment, "...the District is not entitled to unitary status because it has not demonstrated a good-faith ongoing commitment to integration," Foote wrote.

That's the part of her ruling that the appeals court affirmed, or agreed with.

But the closure of Catahoula Elementary, the appeals court disagreed.

In her 2021 ruling, Foote wrote that she didn't order the closure of Catahoula lightly.

"The Court understands that the closing of Catahoula will cause a loss to the entire Catahoula community. For example, Superintendent Blanchard, whose mother was the principal at Catahoula for several years, remarked that the school is well-liked in the community and, along with the church, is one of the main pillars of the Catahoula community," the order reads. "But the closure will benefit the education system of the entire Parish in the long run by providing increased opportunities for all students. Most importantly, the school’s closure will contribute to the elimination of the vestiges of prior de jure (legalized) segregation."

But the appeals court justices wrote that they aren't convinced the only solution was to close the school, noting that "the record demonstrates that progress has been made and progress can continue through the implementation of other reasonable, feasible, and workable remedies."

The appeals court appeared to rely heavily on the testimony of demographer Mike Hefner, who testified at the hearing that ended with the closure of the school. To read our story about that hearing, including details of Hefner's testimony, click here.

KATC was in Catahoula yesterday to talk to residents about the closure of the school. To read yesterday's story about the school closure, click here.