A federal appeals court will decide
whether a group of Covington County school parents can contest the
local district's efforts to come out from under a 40-year-old
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett refused to allow the
parents to oppose the school district's efforts to implement a
consent decree that would achieve racial integration in the school
For the past year, some students from north Covington County
have been bused an hour south to Seminary Attendance Center, a
strategy designed to bring an influx of black students from the
Hopewell community to the once 91 percent white school, one of two
at the heart of a 40-year-old desegregation case settled last
spring by a federal consent decree.
Arthur Keys, who along with wife Peggy, is involved in an
ongoing legal fight to challenge the decree, currently before the
5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Keys had asked Starrett for the right to appeal the consent
decree last August, but were denied just days before the school
year began when Starrett ruled that they'd waited too long before
making the request.
The 5th Circuit has scheduled arguments in the case for Sept. 6
in New Orleans.
The consent decree settled a desegregation case, initially filed
in 1966 but reactivated by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2001
at the request of the NAACP. The suit alleged that Covington County
Schools failed to integrate.
The complaint highlighted two schools, 91 percent white Seminary
Attendance Center and 98 percent black Hopewell Attendance Center,
located in Hot Coffee.
The Keys contend that though the community had worked hand in
hand with the Justice Department for several years, no residents
were consulted before the consent decree was filed.
Starrett said in his order that the Keys family failed to prove
that the interests of Covington County's black community hadn't
been adequately represented by the Justice Department.
In another case, the 5th Circuit has scheduled arguments for
Sept. 5 in New Orleans in Robert Earl Pierce's lawsuit against the
U.S. Air Force over the release of an investigative report into
improprieties at the 186th Air Refueling Wing located in Meridian.
Pierce contended in his lawsuit that report was made available
to at least two newspapers and stories linked him to the
investigation. Pierce contended the report was released to the
public illegally and caused him public scorn and embarrassment.
Pierce sought unspecified damages.
U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate dismissed Pierce's lawsuit
in 2006. Wingate said the 2004 Air Force document identified
officers investigated by duty titles and not by name. One of those
titles was C-26 program manager, a position which Pierce, then a
colonel, held at the 186th.
Wingate said the duty title did not identify Pierce
specifically. Wingate said records showed other people held that
job before and after Pierce at the time the newspaper articles
Wingate said while the newspapers connected Pierce to some
allegations, they "could not have done so without resort to
information outside of the Air Force final report."