Federal Judge Halts St. Helena Fifth Grade Plans
Orders St. Helena Parish to stop offering fifth-grade classes at the district's elementary school
The Associated Press
August 10, 2012GREENSBURG, La. (AP) -- A federal judge has ordered St. Helena Parish public school officials to stop offering fifth-grade classes at the district's elementary school.
U.S. District Judge James J. Brady, who oversees the parish's 60-year-old school desegregation case, ordered that the fifth grade for the St. Helena Parish School District shall remain at the St. Helena Middle School in the Recovery School District.
St. Helena Superintendent Kelli Joseph tells The Advocate (http://bit.ly/RD3qGa ) the district will adhere to the judge's wishes, but they will ask him to reconsider.
Joseph said she would need to speak with the school system's attorney before commenting further on the district's potential legal options.
The judge's order follows an unscheduled telephone conference held Monday, when ``the parties alerted the court that a fifth-grade class has been added to St. Helena schools without the court's permission,'' court minutes state.
The Louisiana Department of Education's Recovery School District has had control of the parish's middle school, which includes the fifth through eighth grades, since Brady granted permission for the takeover in May 2010.
The elementary and high schools, which remain under school board control, were operated under performance agreements with the state known as Memoranda of Understanding from June 2009 until June 30, when the agreements expired.
The agreements specifically prohibited the local district from renaming or reconfiguring the schools to offer additional grade levels.
When the agreements expired, St. Helena officials refused to sign new ones and asked Brady to affirm their right to refuse any more such contracts.
The parties were to present written arguments to the court outlining their positions on the issue by Aug. 13. However, Joseph said, state officials relented and agreed late last week to drop the issue.
Taylor has maintained without new contracts there is no law or provision that would prevent the local district from adding grades to the existing school campuses.
Department of Education officials, through their legal counsel, have ``advised the district to abide by the court's decision to not add an additional grade at the elementary school,'' spokesman Barry Landry said Wednesday.