LITTLE ROCK — Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright has dismissed a lawsuit that would have forced the Little Rock School District to hold citywide school board elections, allowing the school system to moving forward with plans to hold elections in two of its nine zones in the fall.
Hours after hearing arguments in the case on Thursday, Wright released his three-page ruling in favor of the district, rejecting claims from two voters who argued the school system failed to follow federal voting rights protocols. , a failure that meant every school board seat must be returned in November.
“The council is excused from holding the elections demanded by the plaintiffs,” the judge wrote.
Wright agreed with the district attorney, who argued that all the school system had to do in the litigation was to prove that its nine council areas are drawn to reflect population changes in the capital such as established by the 2020 census.
The plaintiffs acknowledged that the council areas were redrawn, but disputed that the new areas met federal voting requirements and asked the judge to have the district show more evidence that they had.
“LRSD contends that it is undisputed that it is a school district with a zoned board meeting the requirements of federal voting rights law,” Wright’s decision states. “LRSD argues that this issue is determinative – that if there is no substantial disagreement on this point, then the exception applies, and LRSD is exempt from holding an election. The Court … concludes that the LRSD has provided sufficient evidence showing that it is a school district with a zoned board.”
Little Rock School Board member Ali Noland announced the outcome of the lawsuit at the end of a school board meeting late Thursday night.
“I think our lawyers were right about the law, and I think the board was right to follow the lawyers’ rulings,” Noland said of the decision.
Noland, who is a lawyer, acknowledged that she had previously favored opening up all nine seats in elections this year.
“I had a policy difference…but I think our lawyers, Judge Wright and counsel were fully within the law in making the decision they made,” she said.
After the meeting, school board president Greg Adams said board members were told just before the meeting of Wright’s decision and received a copy of the court order.
“We’re really glad it happened,” Adams said of the decision.
Adams holds the Area 8 seat on the board that will be open for election this year, regardless of the judge’s decision. He has already announced that he plans to run for re-election to represent part of Northwest Little Rock.
Jeff Wood holds the Area 9 seat on the Board of Directors which will be open for election in November. The week-long application period begins on Wednesday. The district’s plan is to hold elections for Zones 5 and 6 in 2023, Zones 3 and 4 in 2024, and Zones 1, 2 and 7 in 2025.
The plaintiffs were Clarissa McWherter and Aaron Agnew, voters who moved to new school zones when the district redesigned its nine zones based on 2020 census results.
They claimed the district had failed to prove that the new areas met federal standards for voting rights, so the school system should be required to hold full elections. They also complained that being moved to new areas disenfranchised them as they are now represented by council members they never had the chance to vote for and would not have the opportunity to vote for a school board member of their choice for as long as four years.
School officials say only about 1.3% of the district’s 189,000 residents – around 2,400 voters – are also affected.
The district responded to the lawsuit by saying that since its board areas were redrawn to reflect population changes described in the census, the school system was exempt under the law cited by the plaintiffs from conducting a full election. . District attorneys said the school system has held post-census elections the same way since the 1980s, after it moved to single-member zonal representation.