From AP - News Headlines -

Judge Accepts Settlement Agreement, Lifts Unit Four Consent Decree

The Champaign school Consent Decree is now history. A federal judge in Peoria Wednesday accepted a settlement agreement between the Unit Four school district and the plaintiffs in the racial equity case, and formally terminated the decree --- ending seven years of court supervision.

In his Opinion and Order, Judge Joe Billy McDade wrote that the Unit Four school district and the plaintiffs had worked to produce "seven years of transformative progress toward a race-neutral educational environment that is most likely to continue after the Consent Decree ends". Unit Four spokeswoman Beth Shepperd says they look forward to more progress toward racial equity.

Yes, the Consent Decree is over", says Shepperd. "But we have learned so much and gained so many tools to make student successful, that we feel that we are at the beginning of just incredibly great things for our schools."

The attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, Carol Ashley, says while they wish more progress had been made already, the Champaign school district has come a long way in its understanding of the needs of African-American students.

"The settlement and the lawsuit came because the (school) board had turned a deaf ear for many years about minority complaints", says Ashley. "So, when you look at the state of affairs, you can say, at least there's progress in the administration's understanding of issues."

Ashley says there have been concrete accomplishments as well. She says Unit Four now has more African-American administrators and teachers than it did when the Consent Decree began. She says its methods of assigning students to schools is more fair and equitable. And she cites plans to expand and rebuild two schools in predominantly black neighborhoods as part of the gains made under the Consent Decree.

With the Consent Decree now lifted, the Unit Four district stands to save somewhere around 2 million dollars as year in legal and consulting fees it had paid to support the court supervision.

And as part of its settlement agreement with the plaintiffs, the Unit Four school district is creating an Education Equity Excellence Committee --- to advise the district on racial equity issues now that the Consent Decree has been lifted. Unit Four's Beth Shepperd says they received 27 applications from community members to serve on the panel, and Superintendent Arthur Culver will make his recommendations from that list later this month.