Judge denies NAACP's request for injunction against school board redistricting

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Friday, August 15, 2014 - 9:22pm

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board can go ahead and reduce its ranks.

Judge Tim Kelley rejected a lawsuit by the Louisiana Conference of the NAACP to stop a plan to redistrict the board and go from 11 members to nine.

"The problem with this plan was not just that it impacted African-Americans, it impacted the whole community," said Alfreda Tillman Bester, the attorney for the NAACP.

But Judge Kelley did not buy Tillman Bester's argument that the school board's redistricting vote was illegal. Part of her case was the claim that one of the redistricting plans considered at that board meeting, which was not approved, was not advertised correctly. She also argued that there was not a resolution to make the vote official.

"We had affidavits from five of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board members, who certified, swore, that there was no resolution done," she stated. "And we just, I guess I didn't make it clear enough to the court."

"We do not always read every resolution," board member Connie Bernard explained. "Some things, we simply make a motion, and this was a motion to adopt the plan, and that is, in effect, a resolution. And this board would not ever do anything wrong."

"We thought we were following all the laws as they should be followed, and I believe that's what we did," added fellow board member Barbara Freiberg.

The most contentious piece of Friday's hearing was about whether board member Craig Freeman's vote should have counted. Freeman, who has announced that he will not run for re-election, is moving out of state. Dr. Kenyetta Nelson Smith, another board member, testified against him to say his seat should have been vacated and his vote struck down.

"It's disappointing," having members testify against each other, Freiberg said, "and it's, yeah, it's tough."

"I will teach at Oklahoma State," said Freeman, whose first day of classes there will be Monday. "You know, there's definitely a transition, but I'm committed to the people of District 6, and I want to make sure that they get the representation that they elected."

Freeman testified that he and his family live in Baton Rouge.

The lawsuit and the testimony between Freeman and Nelson Smith showed the deep divide between board members.

"It can be tense at times," Freeman acknowledged. "I think we all want to make sure that kids get the best. We've got different ideas about how to get there. But at the end of the day, kids had a great first week; scores are up; F schools are down; and so those are the kinds of things we care about the most, and we'll get past these little squabbles."

Tillman Bester said she plans to confer with the leadership of the NAACP and they will decide next week whether to pursue other means of recourse.

Candidates can qualify to run for the nine seats on the board starting Wednesday.  

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