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Weiner School District supporters file consolidation lawsuit

by By Jill Zeman Bleed, The Associated Press | July 1, 2010 at 12:57 p.m. | Updated July 1, 2010 at 5:53 p.m.

— Supporters of a small Arkansas school district have filed a federal lawsuit against the state, arguing that the closure of rural schools threatens the country’s security and food supply.

The suit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Little Rock, challenges the state’s law mandating the closure of school districts whose enrollments drop below 350 students for two years in a row. The state ordered the closure of the Weiner School District, which was merged with the nearby Harrisburg School District on Thursday.

“The current statutory scheme in Arkansas closing schools in agricultural districts of the state has the potential to have a catastrophic effect on the national commerce,” the lawsuit said.

The Legislature approved the 350-student minimum as part of the state’s response to a school funding lawsuit that ended in 2009. The Weiner School District was up for closure after its enrollment dropped to 313 students.

The lawsuit, filed by Friends of the Weiner School District, claims that closing rural schools hurts farmers and in turn, threatens the country’s food supply.

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Weiner School District filings

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“Farmers, and those who work the farms, are this state’s and country’s first line of defense in protecting our food and agricultural infrastructure and resources,” attorney Kim Kelley wrote in a court filing Thursday. “To ensure that this first line of defense is strong and capable of performing this critical function, the rural communities in which our agriculture and food supplies are produced must be livable.”

There will still be an elementary and high school campus in Weiner after the merger. Weiner and Harrisburg are both in Poinsett County and are about 16 miles apart.

Gov. Mike Beebe has defended the state’s 350-student minimum and said changing that number would only reopen the state’s long-running school funding lawsuit. He said there was nothing he could legally do to stop the consolidation.

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