KANSAS CITY — The NAACP has sent a letter to a top Missouri education official questioning why the more than 3,500 students attending a network of soon-to-close St. Louis charter schools haven't been given the option of transferring to accredited school districts, as allowed under state law.
Adolphus Pruitt, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's St. Louis branch, said in an interview that litigation was likely. He said several attorneys were being interviewed and the plaintiffs would be displaced charter school students.
At issue is the state Board of Education's decision Tuesday to close six academically and fiscally troubled charter school campuses run by Virginia-based Imagine Schools Inc. The closings are supposed to take effect after this school year ends, and education officials are working to find the students slots in St. Louis Public Schools and other charter schools in the city.
But the NAACP said the students also should be able to take advantage of a state law requiring unaccredited districts — like the one in St. Louis — to pay tuition and transportation costs to send students living within their boundaries to accredited schools in the same or an adjoining county.
Pruitt said charter students aren't being told that transferring to accredited schools is an option, and he believes the state has that responsibility after saying it would find new schools for the displaced students to attend.
Several lawsuits have been filed already over the transfer law. Suburban schools have refused to accept students from three unaccredited school systems in Kansas City and St. Louis while the litigation continues and the legislature debates changes to the law.
The state Supreme Court said in 2010 that students living in unaccredited districts are owed free transfers and accredited schools must take them. But then it sent the lawsuit involved in that decision back to a St. Louis County court, where a trial was held in March to discuss several issues, including a claim by accredited schools that it's impossible to comply. The St. Louis judge hasn't ruled yet.
"Under the Missouri Supreme Court's ruling in Turner v. Clayton, these children have the option to go to St. Louis County schools," Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said in an emailed statement. "If these schools begin accepting these students, our charter transition office will facilitate that transfer."
But Pruitt said Nicastro should use the power of her office to "induce" the accredited school systems to take city students.
"If she doesn't stand up and fight for those children, we are going to fight her," Pruitt said. "That is a fact."
Pruitt also said the state should give the St. Louis district partial accreditation if the suburban districts won't have to take transfer students. He said that would keep students from having the blotch of graduating from an unaccredited school system.
"I'm not saying that's the option we want them to take; I'm just saying that's an option," Pruitt said.
Pruitt also noted that the NAACP was part of an earlier desegregation case against St. Louis Public Schools and said the refusal to permit transfers could place the district in violation of a settlement in that case.
"If these were 3,800 white students I seriously question whether we would be having this discussion about whether the county schools would be willing to accept them and whether their options would be limited to an unaccredited school district," he said. "I seriously question that."