LITTLE ROCK — A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a judge’s ruling that the Blytheville School District properly denied requests from several parents to transfer their white children out of the district.

LITTLE ROCK — A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a judge’s ruling that the Blytheville School District properly denied requests from several parents to transfer their white children out of the district.


The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed a federal judge’s decision to grant summary judgment to the district in a lawsuit filed in May 2013 by the parents, who alleged that the district violated their constitutional rights of due process and equal protection and their rights under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act.


The case hinged on a 2013 "school choice" law that, until it was amended this year, allowed students to transfer from one to district to another with no restrictions based on race but also allowed school districts to declare themselves exempt from allowing transfers if they are subject to a desegregation order from a court or federal agency.


The law set April 1 as the deadline for a district to declare itself exempt for the coming school year, but the law was not enacted until April 16, 2013. On May 1, 2013, the state issued a memo stating that districts could claim exemptions until May 17.


The Blytheville parents submitted their transfer requests between April 22 and April 26 of 2013. A few days later, on April 29, the Blytheville School Board voted to claim an exemption from the school choice law, based on a desegregation case that was resolved in 1978.


In its majority opinion Monday upholding summary judgment in favor of the district, a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit said the 2013 law was amended in 2015 to remove the provision at issue in the lawsuit and replace it with language requiring districts that are under desegregation orders to notify the Education Department of those orders.


That change made much of the suit moot, the appeals court said, but it said it considered the parents’ constitutional claims because of the potential for money damages. The court sided with the district on those claims.


There is no precedent to support the proposition that "a parent’s ability to choose where his or her child is educated within the public school system is a fundamental right or liberty," the court said.


The court also said that although the 2013 law set April 1 as a deadline for declaring exemptions, the Education Department’s memo giving districts until May 17 gave the Blytheville district a rational basis for believing it could claim an exemption.


The court did not say whether the district is subject to a desegregation order, but it said a letter the federal government sent to the district in the 1970s could be interpreted as requiring the district to take no action that could result in a return to segregation.


The appeals court also rejected the parents’ argument that the students were treated differently because they are white.


The parents noted that the district never raised concerns about a desegregation order when the state Board of Education approved a KIPP charter school, which has a mostly minority student body, in the area in 2009.


The 8th Circuit said the Blytheville district did not object to any students, black or white, transferring to KIPP, and its decision to claim an exemption from the 2013 school choice law — which, the court noted, was made under a law that did not exist in 2009 — did not apply only to white students.


"The district’s claim of the exemption equally impacted all students, regardless of race, as no student could transfer out of the district because of the district’s taking of the exemption under the 2013 act," Judge Lavenski Smith wrote in the court’s majority opinion.


Judge Arlen Beam wrote in a dissenting opinion that he would have sent the case back to the federal district judge for new proceedings.


Beam said the district wrongly exempted itself from the 2013 school choice law based on a case that it was no longer subject to; wrongly deprived students of a right that the Legislature established with the 2013 law; and wrongly denied parents the opportunity to challenge the transfer denials.