BEST OF 2022 – Lincoln Prep: Bittersweet release from judicial oversight after 50 years

This Best of the LPJ for 2022 story was originally published on March 23, 2022.

By T. Scott Boatright

After more than 50 years, The Grambling High Foundation (GHF), and Louisiana Tech University (Tech), which acts on behalf of A.E. Phillips Laboratory (AEP), are free from judicial oversight regarding a desegregation lawsuit initiated by the United States in 1966.

“It feels amazing to put all of this behind us,” said Lincoln Prep Executive Director Gordan Ford. “I just told someone today was the first time in seven years I woke up and was not concerned that someone from Washington, D.C., was going to try and shut our school down.”

In July 1977, the United States District Court filed a motion to desegregate the Grambling Laboratory Schools and AEP, which is located on Tech’s campus.

After years of inactivity followed by actions taken in recent years, including the creation of Lincoln Preparatory School in Grambling, Judge Robert James on Monday signed a Memorandum Order declaring unitary status, dismissing any further court action involving the decades-long desegregation order.

In 1984, this Court approved a consent decree which required GSU to take a number of actions intended to desegregate the Laboratory Schools.

Those actions seem to have finally put to rest the issue, which in 2009, after many years in which this case was largely inactive, came under jurisdictive study when the Court directed the United States to conduct a unitary status review, including a review of then-remaining issues with GSU’s and Tech’s laboratory schools. 

That review resulted in a Motion for Further Relief being filed by the United States. GSU and Tech both opposed the motion and moved on their own for declarations of unitary status, with the Lincoln Parish School Board supporting the position of both GSU and Tech.

Then in September 2013, the Court held a conference with counsel during which the parties agreed to enter into negotiations in an attempt to resolve the lab school issues. The GSU lab schools were comprised of three schools: Alma J. Brown Elementary School (K-5), Grambling Middle School (6-8) and Grambling High School (9-12), which educated students and served the Grambling community for more than 100 years.

That led to Jan. 6, 2014, when counsel for the parties met to discuss the proposals to resolve the outstanding desegregation issues at the laboratory schools. 

At a second meeting held on March 10, 2014, GSU’s counsel reportedly informed the Court and the parties that, in conjunction with the GHF, it had filed an application to convert its laboratory schools to a charter school.

That charter school opened for the 2016-17 school year as Lincoln Preparatory School.

In January of 2020, the U.S. District Court ruled that barred the GHF from operating Lincoln Prep on the GSU campus for the following school because of delays in meeting desegregation requirements involving the percentage of white students attending the school.

So Lincoln Preparatory became a nomadic school starting the 2020-21 school year, with classes split between various sites in Grambling and Lincoln Parish and athletics teams forced to play at other locations.

The Lincoln Prep Panthers played a 2021 home football playoff game at Louisiana Tech, and last month the Panthers boys basketball team played a pair of “home” games at Scotty Robertson Memorial Gym on the Tech campus.

But last November ground was broken on a new school now under construction at 1455 West Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in Grambling.

Ford said expectations are for the 654-student school to start the 2022-23 school year in that building, and hopefully even to be able to play football there next fall.

“After the case dismissal, there are no restrictions for next season,” Ford said. “We’re getting ready to start construction on our own football stadium, and we’re hoping to be able to play in that stadium (next fall). But if not, then we would be able to play at Grambling (State). And hopefully we’ll have the gymnasium done by early 2023 at the latest.”

Ford said that for many Grambling natives, the moment is bittersweet.

“This is a lawsuit that was filed in 1966 to integrate the schools,” Ford said. “And actually our school and I.A. Lewis are the only majority Black schools that survived at all from Lincoln Parish. Lincoln High School, Lincoln Elementary, Hopewell … all of those other Black schools are long completely gone … forever. So there’s some bittersweetness to it after having to go through this lawsuit and go through the history of it knowing what it did to the Black community.

“It’s good that it integrated, but the cost was pretty high. There were a lot of things lost. But we’re still Grambling. We’re still in Grambling. The thing we’re excited about is that this year, we’re going to be able to have graduation in Grambling. It’s bittersweet, but at the end of this we’re better than we would have been, and we’re happy.”