HOT SPRINGS, AR - Should race play a factor in deciding where your child should attend school? State law says "yes" but a group of parents from Hot Spring County are challenging that state law in federal court.
It's only 25 miles or so from Malvern to the federal courthouse in Hot Springs. But it is a journey five years in the making for a group of parents looking for another choice. They all want to have the choice to take their kids out of the Malvern School District.
A 23-year old school choice law says families can switch districts. But districts can use race as a factor in blocking the move. In this case, white students can not leave Malvern for other districts within Hot Spring County.
"We have given up so many liberties in our country and in our state,” Darrin Hardy says. “And I just believe parents should have the choice, parents know where their child should be."
Rhonda Richardson says she spends $400 a month sending her kids to private schools.
"My kids go to private school because I went to Malvern,” Richardson says. “I know what Malvern schools are like and I feel like it is unsafe to put them there."
She wants to save that money and send them to Magnet Cove Schools about 15 minutes away.
The state argues there are other avenues for parents to pursue a transfer for their kids.
And the law is there to avoid resegregating Arkansas schools.
But a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling
says attempts at racial balancing in schools is a fatal flaw and should not be used in student assignment.
"It's a personal choice the parents have made,” attorney Andi Davis says. “They've made a big deal about it being about race, and I understand the ramifications of race, but that's not why these parents are doing this."
Hardy and other parents believe this hearing could be the final step at getting the part of the School Choice Law of 1989 dealing with race removed.
"Everyone that is familiar with this law knows that it is unconstitutional,” Hardy says. “And it takes a group of working class people from Malvern Arkansas and a great attorney to stand up and get a wrong righted."
Attorneys for the Little Rock School District and the Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Jerry Guess were in the courtroom watching the hearing to see if the ruling will have any impact in their ongoing desegregation case.
A ruling is expected in the next few weeks.