A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a judge’s ruling that the Little Rock School District has met terms of a long-standing desegregation order.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled unanimously that a lawyer representing a group of black parents and students did not present sufficient evidence to warrant overturning a 2007 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William R. Wilson Jr.

The plaintiffs had challenged the methods used to evaluate the district’s desegregation.

Wilson ruled that the district had substantially complied with a 1998 desegregation plan. He noted that blacks had gained a majority on the school board and said the 27,000-student district had achieved desegregated status.

Wilson’s ruling came 50 years after the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, in which nine black students attended the school under the protection of federal troops.

John Walker, the plaintiffs’ attorney, was in court Thursday and not immediately available to comment, his office said.

Gov. Mike Beebe said the ruling could lead to the state ending desegregation payments to Little Rock-area school districts. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said action on the other two districts was awaiting the ruling by the 8th Circuit.

“We’re obviously pleased that Judge Wilson’s order on unitary status was upheld,” Beebe said.

The governor said he didn’t know when the state could stop issuing the payments to the Little Rock district and two others still being monitored.

“We’ll have to talk to the attorney general and see all the legal ramifications of what all this means, but I think it’s a good sign,” Beebe said.

Arkansas Education Secretary Ken James also said the appeals court ruled correctly.

“We all are not surprised, those of us that were close to the situation that Judge Wilson’s decision was affirmed because we felt that unitary was attained. I think that this is a positive indication,” James said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.