A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday on whether Terrebonne Parish school officials acted properly when they closed Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary earlier this year.
The School Board voted 6-3 in April to send the students to Montegut Elementary, about four miles away, starting this fall. Officials cited decreasing enrollment and cost savings by consolidating resources.
About a dozen parents filed suit June 11 in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, asking a judge to keep the school open offering classes in the French language Native American and Cajun families in the small community have spoken for generations.
"The decision to close PAC Elementary School and to deny establishment of the requested French Immersion Program continues a pattern and practice of discrimination against Native American and Cajun children," the lawsuit alleges.
Officials said they have not determined what they will do with the building now that it is closed. About 100 students attended Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary before the closure. At the time, Montegut Elementary enrolled 143 students.
The School Board had asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to dismiss the suit, but he allowed the case to proceed in an order issued Nov. 2.
Barbier did reject five of six legal violations parents alleged, including claims the board violated state laws in denying parents' request to convert the school to a French Immersion Program.
But the judge allowed the case to proceed after finding parents had made "plausible" claims that the board violated Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in any program or activity that receives federal money.
Barbier notes that the lawsuit alleges the board voted to close the school despite:
Testimony about its importance to Native American children.
A letter from experts supporting the need for a school that is culturally reflective in Pointe-aux-Chenes.
A pledge from state officials to provide $1 million to keep the school open.
The judge also noted that, according to the plaintiffs, Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary qualified for federal money for Indian Education and other programs.
"No report, analysis or evaluation, plaintiffs assert, was provided as to why the School Board proposed to close the school, and no School Board member articulated any reason why the school should be closed when casting their votes," Barbier said in his decision to let the case proceed.
Barbier noted that the School Board "seemed to ignore community input," and the judge found the plaintiffs' claims of discrimination "plausible."
Also named as defendants are schools Superintendent Philip Martin and School Board President Gregory Harding. They are represented by Stanwood Duval of Duval, Funderburk, Sundbery, Richard & Watkins of Houma.
The plaintiffs are represented by Louis Koerner of the Koerner Law Firm of New Orleans.
This article originally appeared on The Courier: Federal judge to hear arguments over Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary's closure