Lawsuit against Arkadelphia Schools claims racism in disciplinary action

By Joe May
The Southern Standard

Two patrons of the Arkadelphia School District have retained the services of a former Pulaski County Circuit Judge to file a racial discrimination suit over a disciplinary issue.

According to a suit filed by Marion A. Humphrey Sr. and Marion A. Humphrey Jr. of the Little Rock law firm of Humphrey and Humphrey, an Arkadelphia couple, identified in court papers only as “H.W. and C.W.” on behalf of their son “H.W. Jr.,” various district employees and staff members from L.M. Goza Middle School are “racist” in placing their son in Alternative Learning Experience.

The suit, filed April 19 in Clark County Circuit Court, names school board members Dr. Casey Motl, Dr. Kenneth Harris, Clark Tennyson, Blake Bell, Ida Trimble and Gina White as well as Superintendent Dr. Karla Neathery and Goza principal Cheryl Merk.

The suit seeks a temporary restraining order and permanent injunctive relief against their son being placed in ALE.

The suit notes that H.W. and C.W. are black and that most of the defendants are white.

On March 6, the suit states that Merk called the plaintiffs to notify them that their son would be placed in ALE, which the suit describes as an alternative “which has been used consistently by the defendant, Arkadelphia School District, to remove African American boys from regular classes, casting a stigma upon them and denying them access to equal educational opportunities under the law…”

The suit notes that H.W. told Merk that he did not want his son placed in ALE and a meeting was conducted on March 9. The suit alleges that despite the meeting, Merk already had her mind made up on the issue, despite the fact that a “three-tier process” required by the Arkansas Department of Education had not been followed and documented.

The suit states that during the meeting all school officials present to make the decision to place the child in ALE were white, save for one teacher.

“The actions of Defendant Merk and others were racist and in violation of the Arkansas Constitution and the United States Constitution and of state and federal statutes…” the suit notes.

Further, the suit notes that the plaintiffs contacted Motl and Neathery and were told, through an attorney, they are not entitled to appeal the decision “which is a violation of due process rights of the plaintiffs and their child,” the suit states.

“The specific actions of Defendant Merk in causing the ban of H.W. Jr. from the school and specific refusal of Defendant Neathery to overrule the ban have caused pain, suffering, ridicule and emotional distress to H.W. Jr. in addition to the arm of loss of educational right and privilege.

“These actions also violate the civil rights of the plaintiffs to enroll their child in public schools and to deny them rights and privileges afforded white citizens,” the suit states, alleging that “the harm to H.W. Jr. mounts on a daily basis, and the continued violation of the rights of the plaintiffs and their child will cause additional irreparable harm to him.”

The suit asks that the student be placed back in a regular classroom and that the defendants “be ordered to cease practices of racial discrimination and disparate treatment of African American students in the Arkadelphia School District and that they be ordered specifically to require fair and equitable treatment of H.W. Jr. including compelling his attendance at Goza Middle School…”  Further, the suit requests be awarded compensatory and punitive damages “for the emotional distress upon H.W. Jr.” as well as attorney fees and costs.

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