JCPS Student Assignment Plan

October 16, 2011
By , Louisville, KY
The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled against the JCPS student assignment plan Friday, September 30, 2011. As a result, the school district must revamp the plan before the next school year and allow parents to enroll their children in the school nearest to their homes. The next day, the Jefferson County School District held a forum at Central High School to get feedback from the public about future student assignment plans.

Many people, parents, community members and officials of the district alike, feel there are too many questions about it and wonder if the effort the district is making will all be for nothing.

“Their concern at the board should be academic achievement,” said Deborah Stallworth, whose son graduated from Central High School a couple years ago.

Originally, in 1976, federal courts ordered Jefferson County to desegregate its schools with busing. However, that same year the state passed a law that stated “within the appropriate school district attendance area, parents or legal guardians shall be permitted to enroll their children in the public school nearest their home.” It was likely a way to sidestep the federal order, according to JCPS attorneys.

Then in 1990, when Kentucky approved its sweeping educational reforms, the statute’s language, which said that students could enroll their children for attendance in the nearest school, was changed.

The words “for attendance” were struck from the law so that it said only that parent could “enroll” their children at the nearest school.

Bryon Leet, a district lawyer, argued that the only logical intent was that officials wanted to limit the meaning of the statute so that there was no right to attend the nearest school.

But attorneys for the parents argued that once Jefferson County’s court-ordered desegregation was lifted in 2000, the state law once again applied to Jefferson County, even though the district decided to continue to integrated schools voluntarily for the benefits of students.

In August 2010, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Irv Maze dismissed the suit, ruling that with the statute, KRS 159.070, the term “enroll” only allows children to register within the district at the nearest school, but didn’t guarantee they could attend it.

That ruling left intact the district’s current assignment plan, which was created after 2007 Supreme Court ruling that the district’s old plan, based on a now-lifted desegregation order, relied too heavily on race.

The 2-1 ruling on Friday reversed the 2010 circuit judge’s decision and ordered the district to develop a new system for the 2012-2013. JCPS attorneys say they’ll appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which will likely have the final word about the district’s system of voluntary integration.

“The decision could also cripple parent choice and magnet programs, create challenges to providing services such as limited-English and special-education classes in all schools and hobble some students’ education by creating more schools with higher concentrations of disadvantaged, poor or minority students,” said Leet.

Judge Kelly Thompson’s ruling on Friday downplayed those concerns, arguing that because parents would not be required to send their children to the nearest school, magnet and specialized schools could still exist, and the school district could still draw attendance boundaries to help shape enrollment.

Even so, the district is currently considering major changes in its student-assignment plan that would reduce bus-ride times and allow parents more choices of elementary schools closer to home. But they would likely not go far enough to satisfy the state law as interpreted by the Court of Appeals.

If it’s upheld, many districts across Kentucky could be affected. Education Commissioner Terry Holliday will be reviewing the decision in the coming days and analyzing its potential impact, said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

Thompson, writing for the court, also said that the district’s contention that the law only gave children the right to register a child in the JCPS system “defies logic”. The majority also said that the statute made sense because of what the ruling outlined as the virtues of a neighborhood schools.

“Busing creates the impediment of distance among parent, child, and school and, therefore, increases the difficulty of family involvement,” the ruling stated. “A child who attends a school other than one located in his or her neighborhood must board the bus earlier and arrive home later, spending idle time without the supervision of teachers or parents. It is time otherwise that could be spent with family, participating in extracurricular activities, studying, and boding with neighborhood friends.”

In its ruling, the appeals court said it realized that JCPS’s transportation and student assignment plan system couldn’t be quickly reorganized, so it required the district to come up with a new plan for the 2012-2013 school year that is “reasonable consistent” with the court’s opinion.

But Judge Combs, in her dissent, wrote that while the idea of neighborhood schools may be “ideal in the utopian sense, even in remote, rural areas of the state, however, that idyllic preference is often not a reality” because of distances, school capacity and transportation routes.

Combs also wrote “A case of this widespread public impact was an appropriate one to bypass the Court of Appeals and to proceed directly to the Supreme Court of Kentucky. In hindsight, the volatile tenor of the oral argument made this alternative not only feasible but desirable - if not, indeed, necessary.”

Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP, said the ruling worried him because it “gives additional ammunition to the opponents of desegregation” but was glad it would be appealed.

He said “The benefits of desegregated schools have been well-documented. We must have a desegregated school system in order to prepared students for a life in that society. This is definitely a step backward, and in the wrong direction.”

For now, there are two sides to the JCPS student assignment plan: keep schools desegregated and continue long bus rides, which upset parents, or assign students in their neighborhood schools, segregated by income, race and education of the residents of the neighborhoods in which they live, and decrease the bus rides. All that can be done now is to wait for the decision of the Kentucky Supreme Court.





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