Avoyelles School Board unanimously approves desegregation settlement

By Garland Forman

Although the outcome of the vote last Friday was never in doubt, the Avoyelles School Board officially accepted the settlement agreement to end the desegregation lawsuit filed against the parish in 1967.
After a 6-minute closed-door session last  Friday afternoon, the  board returned and unanimously accepted the agreement. Van Kojis made the motion and Freeman Ford seconded it. Kojis then raised raised both arms in celebration and said “Hallelujah” as the audience rose to give a standing ovation.
Prior to Friday’s meeting, Holmes said his phone had not stopped ringing.
“Everyone I talked to is excited and happy that this case has come to a close,” Holmes said. “They are ready for the school system to continue to move forward.”
At the board meeting, Holmes said he and board members “didn’t always agree on everything” but “did agree on many others. We worked for one goal, the education of the children of Avoyelles. Public schools in Avoyelles live on. We did the right thing.”
In addition to the individuals who have been noted in previous articles on the case, Holmes said that past 12th Judicial District Judge Mark Jeansonne and current District Judge Kerry Spruill also assisted in bringing the case to a close.
He said Jeansonne provided legal assistance in the past few months, including making suggestions that the other parties in the lawsuit agreed to. Spruill provided legal advice to Holmes after Holmes took over the role of attorney as well as plaintiff in the case.
Holmes said being involved in the case for 30 years has taken a toll on him and his family.
“It’s a part of my life that I will not get back, but it was the right thing to do,” Holmes said.  “I’m ready to travel with my grandkids and enjoy the sunsets.” 
Dwayne Lemoine
When former superintendent Dwayne Lemoine took the position in 2007, the nine School Board members committed to resolving the desegregation lawsuit, Lemoine said. Four of the original nine are still serving, he added.
Contrary to popular belief, the lawsuit did not consume a lot of his time as superintendent. The goals and results spelled out in the lawsuit “helped define me as a superintendent. Without this case, I could not have been productive.”
He said abiding by the Justice Department guidelines to achieve unitary status “enhanced the system.”
Lemoine said he does not regret retiring earlier this year, rather than staying on until the lawsuit was settled. He said it was time for him to “move on.” 
Lemoine said his successor, Blaine Dauzat, did a good job in finishing the work needed to conclude the case.
Charles Riddle
District Attorney Charles Riddle said he has not received a single phone call complaining about the court’s decision to declare the school system unitary. He was surprised how quickly everything fell into place last Wednesday and Thursday.
“As we responded to  the U.S. Justice Department’s requests, they realized we were following their requirements,” Riddle said. “It made it simpler for the U.S. Justice attorney to get approval from his supervisor to agree to the settlement.”
Riddle said this case has become personal to him.
“My father was D.A. when this case started,” Riddle said. “Just after Hurricane Gustav, I found notes from my father concerning the case. This case has now ended with me being the D.A. To me, that was special.”
Riddle said many people have done a lot of good work on the case over the years, but singled out former Assistant D.A. David Lafargue for his efforts.
Dr. William Gordan
Dr. William Gordan laughed when he said the recent developments in the case made him unemployed. He then said the close of the case was long overdue. Gordan was hired by the School Board in 2007 as its desegregation expert.
“The settlement is what the Avoyelles community needed,” Gordan said by phone from his home in North Carolina. “In the last year, the school system had many changes than just facilities,” he continued. “I’m excited for the residents and School Board of the parish.”
Gordan said he is  pleased with the three-year monitoring period in the settlement.
“At the end of this long seven-year journey, everyone was getting tired -- and I can be a pain at times,” Gordan said. “The board, with the help of Lemoine and Dauzat, stayed the course and was able to reach a settlement. This is my last case, but the memories of the people of Avoyelles Parish will always be good.”