Sunday, July 14, 2013

Missouri School Transfer Ruling Sparking Concerns for Parents and Districts

In June we noted the Missouri Supreme Court case Breitenfeld vs. Clayton that upheld the constitutionality of Mo. Rev. Stat. 167.131, requiring unaccredited school districts to pay tuition and transportation costs for students who transfer to neighboring accredited school districts. As schools' opening day approaches, the ruling is sparking resentment among various St. Louis area constituencies. Unaccredited districts predict that the requirement to pay a new district for transferring students' tuition and transportation may bankrupt school systems already weakened by losing their accreditation. The districts say that the state's transfer law was a factor that led to the demise of the Wellston School District in 2010.

After Wellston dissolved, most of its students moved to the Normandy School District, which, along with Kansas City and St. Louis suburban district Riverview Gardens, are now among the districts that lost accreditation. (The St. Louis Public Schools district, with more than 23,000 students, briefly lost its accreditation, but was granted provisional accreditation last October.)

The law allows home districts to designate one school district to which they will provide free bus transportation. This has been a contentious issue as well, as both unaccredited districts, Normandy and Riverview Gardens, have chosen school districts 20 miles away (Francis Howell and Mehlville, respectively), skipping over closer accredited school districts. The Normandy district says that it considered size, academics, and diversity in choosing the Francis Howell district. (98% of Normandy district students are black; 86% of the students in Francis Howell are white.) Children in Normandy's district may choose to attend a closer district, but will have to find and fund their own way to school. The Missouri Supreme Court's ruling requires districts to accept transfer students even if their classes are already full.

Normandy's choice of the Francis Howell district is turning into a school district version of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." In a Francis Howell school board meeting last Thursday, angry parents protested the transfers, arguing that their district's test scores would be lowered when Normandy's students test scores are incorporated with Francis Howell's, and that Normandy students would introduce violence and drugs to their schools. One parent called for the installation of metal detectors.

Whatever conclusion one comes to about the parents' reactions, they are explicable. The St. Louis media featured Normandy High School's problems prominently over the last year; one article in May branded the school, Normandy High: The most dangerous school in the area. Responding to the controversy, two Missouri legislators introduced bills this month to stop those transfers; one legislator called it is "a slap in the face" for Francis Howell to be forced to accept Normandy students.


Cases, State law developments | Permalink


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