LITTLE ROCK, ARK. — A judge in one of the nation's longest-running school desegregation cases released the Little Rock district from federal supervision Friday, nearly 50 years after President Eisenhower sent in troops to escort nine black students into all-white Central High.
U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr. said the district was substantially complying with a 1998 desegregation plan worked out in the 27,000-student district.
With blacks having gained a majority on the school board last September, the judge said he felt comfortable ending supervision and confident that the district would keep working to improve academic achievements among its 19,000 black students.
In 1957, despite a U.S. Supreme Court order, Gov. Orval Faubus tried to thwart black students from enrolling at Central High, setting off one of the biggest crises of the civil rights era. Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne to enforce the order.
"The district has been given back to the people of this community, and my pledge to them is to continue to work hard and recognize that we're all going to have to work hard," said Supt. Roy Brooks, who is black. "I think that this is a clear indication that 1957 is not 2007."
A final sticking point, which stemmed from a 1982 lawsuit, had been whether the district was adequately measuring black students' test scores to determine whether they were improving. Late last year, the district adopted a resolution that said it would continue to assess the progress of black students even if the district was not under court supervision.
In Little Rock, and nationwide, black students on average score below their white classmates on standardized tests. The gap in Little Rock is as large as 40 points on state and national standardized tests. There has been some improvement over the years, but many argue there hasn't been enough.
"We're certainly disappointed in view of the lack of progress this district has made in addressing the needs of African American students," said John Walker, a lawyer for Joshua Intervenors, which represents black students. "The standard was not high for the district to meet, but they certainly have not met it. We will have to pursue other means."
School board member Baker Kurrus, who is white, called Wilson's decision "a well-deserved endorsement."
"We have to prove that we're capable of managing our district and make sure that the mistakes of the past are never repeated," Kurrus said. "We simply must reach all students in our district."