Appeals court backs ruling on provisional status for Tangipahoa Parish schools

By Charmaine Little | May 14, 2019

NEW ORLEANS – The Tangipahoa Parish School Board lost its appeal of a lower court's ruling that granted provisional unitary status for the Louisiana school district. 

The school board filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit after the district court granted the school district’s facilities department unitary status on a two-year probationary period. The appeals court affirmed the district court's ruling on April 18.

Circuit Judge Gregg Costa authored the opinion. Circuit Judges Carolyn Dineen King and Stephen Higginson concurred.

The board said that “a probationary period is not allowed when a court takes an incremental approach to unitary status,” Costa wrote. The appeals court noted that obliging a probationary period before getting a desegregation matter completely dismissed is perfectly normal for the court and has occurred multiple times in its history.


The appeals court pointed out that this method helps prevent oversight on the court’s end and can be even less daunting for the school district as it aims to achieve final unitary status; especially because a probationary period isn’t the only roadblock standing in the way for each case.

The appeals court also disagreed with the board’s argument that the probationary period wasn’t necessary. “The district court concludes that the board had gotten most of the way there, but that some doubt remained, warranting a two-year probationary period,” Costa wrote.

Ultimately, remarks from the board president helped the appeals court determine the board couldn’t completely meet its good-faith requirement.

“We see no clear error with that determination in this long-pending desegregation case with which the district court is intimately familiar,” Costa wrote.

Public schools in Tangipahoa Parish have been undergoing major changes in attempting to become a unitary school system with no segregation. The matter has been going on for more than 50 years and has now sparked back up within the last decade. 

In 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana gave the school district unitary status on a conditional basis. The term was that the lower court would keep jurisdiction for extracurricular activities for an entire school year. If the lower court didn’t get any evidence of the school district practicing discrimination it would be unitary, without the conditional status. In 2015, the lower court saw the efforts the school district made and granted it unitary status provisionally concerning staffing.

Now, the appeal is from the lower court’s ruling to grant provisional unitary status for facilities. In that ruling, the court had a two-year probationary period with compliance reviews twice a year. The lower court would then rule an unconditional unitary status for facilities.

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