MONROE – The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached an agreement in a decades-long desegregation suit filed against the A.E. Phillips Laboratory School, a public school operating on Louisiana Tech University’s Lincoln Parish campus.
The school, which has been on the Tech campus since 1969, was founded in 1910 as a stepping stone for future teachers. In its early days, the school barred nonwhites from attending its programs. A.E. Phillips was first placed under an order to desegregate in 1984. In 2008, the U.S. Justice Department reopened litigation based upon statistics that showed 85 percent of the campus’ students were white while less than 12 percent were black. The school currently serves students from kindergarten through 8th grade.
“All students should have a quality education and should not be barred from any school that provides them that education,” said U.S. Attorney General Stephanie A. Finley of the Western District of Louisiana in a statement. “This consent order will have an important and lasting impact for all the students in the Lincoln Parish community.”
The agreement is structured to ensure African-Americans students will have improved access to the various programs offered by the school. Among local residents, A.E. Phillips has a reputation for strong academic programs that annually churn out future teaching candidates for Louisiana Tech’s College of Education.
“We are thrilled to have resolved this issues with the Justice Department," Dr. Don Schillinger, dean of Louisiana Tech’s College of Education, told the Louisiana Record. “We have an outstanding working relationship with the DOJ and the people of this community. This was the right thing to do.”
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana approved the agreement between the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division and Louisiana Tech.
Among the specifics outlined in the agreement is the expanding of school facilities to two classrooms per grade level to order to service more nonwhite students, a plan to recruit African-America students for kindergarten classes, an offer of full and partial tuition scholarships to currently enrolled African-American students who are eligible for free and reduced-price student meals under the federal guidelines and the implementation of protocols to recruit African-American candidates for staff vacancies at the school.
According to Schillinger, the college was aware of the court’s concerns and already had begun the process of implementing many of the points negotiated in the agreement.
“All along it has been our intent to make the necessary changes at the school," Schillinger said. "We have worked over the last year with the various parties and have already implemented several of the changes outlined even before the agreement was signed.”
When the suit reopened in 2008, the federal courts, at the urging of the DOJ, began prodding Louisiana Tech to do more. Since the 2008 school year, the percentage of black students enrolled in the school has increased each year.
Schillinger said that while he was dismayed that it took more than 30 years for an agreement to be reached, he acknowledges that timing may have been the most important factor.
“I’ve only been here a few years, but it appears that this case may have just languished due to inattention. It seems that the judge was getting ready to retire and wanted the case cleaned up and off the docket before he left office. But as I said before it is the right thing to do," he said.