Federal appeals court to hear Covington Co. school dispute

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

desegregation order.

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."