Judge rules to deny injunction by Friends of Weiner School District

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Attorneys for the Friends of the Weiner School District and State of Arkansas were in federal court Wednesday regarding the consolidation of the Weiner School District with the Harrisburg School District. Supporters of Weiner schools were looking for a temporary injunction that would undo the consolidation and allow Weiner to operate as its own entity. That temporary injunction was denied by Judge Jim Moody in Eastern District Federal Court.

"People are going to do what's best for their family. They're not going to put them on a bus to ride for 4 1/2 hours," said Kim Kelley, Attorney for Friends of Weiner. "We can historically look at the way school districts have been treated as they've been annexed or consolidated, and they go away. Maybe not the next day, maybe not even in a year or two, but they go away."

According to Kelley, farmers are the first line of defense against agri-terrorism, a theme discussed throughout Wednesday's trial.

"When I was quoting from the testimony of April of 2010 to the committee on weapons of mass destruction, the clock is ticking," said Kelley.

Kelley began the day with her opening statement, where she discussed the importance of rural schools in the Mississippi River Delta. She said when schools are closed, so are communities. She said agriculture is the driving force of Arkansas' economy and Poinsett County has consistently excelled in rice production, especially in the western portion where the Weiner School District is located.

"They're saying we may be small. We may be a tiny speck on your radar screen but we know that this is important and this is the line and we're drawing it," said Kelley.

Scott Richardson was the attorney representing the Arkansas Attorney General's Office. His opening statement discussed the federal government's authority to interact with education. He clarified that education is the responsibility of the state.

"There were two things. One was irreparable damage and that was something that I know our lawyers for the state felt like that was going to be hard for Weiner to prove," said Julie Thompson, Director of the Arkansas Department of Education.

Representative Buddy Lovell was called to the witness stand, where he was questioned for more than an hour. Lovell said Harrisburg and Weiner are roughly ten miles apart and Weiner has consistently excelled in education.

Lovell explained Act 60, which requires all school districts in the state to average 350 students over the first three quarters of the academic year. If a school does not average 350 students for two consecutive years, then it will be consolidated with another district. It does not consider the fourth quarter as part of the average.

Supporters of the district said all four quarters should be considered due to migrant workers who arrive for the planting season.

Lovell told the court he introduced a bill, which ultimately failed, that would keep 350 students as the number schools must meet; however, if the district exceeds 350 students in any quarter, then the two-year average would restart.

Lovell also discussed funding for districts, otherwise called foundation funding. Foundation funding is the money it takes to adequately teach a student.

"We know that any time there's a change in a school, especially in a smaller community, it's very hard. So we know that the students and the families in the community, we understand their concerns," said Thompson. "We also have seen consolidations across the state occur and be quite successful for students and teachers and life does go on."

Moody said his decision to deny temporary injunction was made on four issues. He said the plaintiff did not present evidence that would suggest an immediate threat to the community, a temporary injunction would impact other school consolidations, the decision would not be in the best of public interest and success on merits alone would ultimately decide the fate of the school.

"There's a lot of community spirit in Weiner. You can tell and the passion for the people was very admirable. I think there are a lot of communities like that. Unfortunately this is the law," said Thompson.

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