Civil rights lawsuit against Arkadelphia Schools dismissed

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

A lawsuit claiming racism in disciplinary actions at Arkadelphia Public Schools has been dismissed in federal court as both parties have reached a settlement agreement.

The 2022 lawsuit filed against the Arkadelphia Board of Education, its former superintendent, and a high school principal was dismissed a month before it was headed to trial in U.S. District Court-Western District in Hot Springs.

The plaintiffs — identified only as H.W. and C.W. — had appeared to be picking up steam in court proceedings, as Senior U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson in December denied a summary judgment filed by the school district’s attorneys. 

The case, originally filed in Clark County Circuit Court, was reassigned to Chief U.S. District Judge Susan O. Hickey on Jan. 4. Federal court documents indicate that a settlement agreement was reached sometime in January. On Feb. 1 Hickey filed an order dismissing the case with prejudice after a joint filing by both parties.

Prior to the recent ruling, Little Rock attorney Cody Kees filed a pair of motions on behalf of the school board — one asking the court to reconsider the summary judgment and one asking that specific items be excluded from evidence in the looming trial. Hickey would rule both motions as moot when the case was dismissed.

Superintendent Nikki Thomas, who was not named as a defendant because she was not yet superintendent at the time the suit was filed, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the settlement agreement prevented the district or the plaintiffs from discussing the case or settlement.

A memo dated Jan. 13 from Kees to the school board notes that the plaintiffs had accepted an offer of $20,000 “to fully resolve the lawsuit.” The memo goes on to state that the district’s insurance carrier encouraged the settlement “given the relatively small amount in light of the significant expense to defend a case like this in federal court.”

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