ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis County Circuit Court judge has ruled in favor of parents who want three school districts to allow their children, who had transferred from an unaccredited school district, to return to their classrooms this year.
Judge Michael Burton ruled Friday that the Pattonville, Ritenour and Francis Howell school districts must immediately allow the children of four families in the Normandy school district to return to their schools. The parents sued the districts and the state after the districts declined to re-enroll their children after the Normandy district was replaced by a new, state-controlled school collaborative effective July 1.
The ruling could allow 500 Normandy students to return to schools that refused to re-enroll them this school year, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
"Every child in this community has a right to a decent education," Burton wrote.
The ruling also invalidates decisions made by the Missouri Board of Education in June intended to remove the Normandy Schools Collaborative from requirements of the state's transfer law, which gave students from unaccredited school districts the chance to enroll in nearby accredited districts.
The lawsuit was filed after Missouri officials disbanded the Normandy district and created the Normandy Schools Collaborative, which allowed districts that had previously accepted Normandy transfers to limit the numbers in the coming school year, including students who had already enrolled.
The transfer law required unaccredited districts to pay the tuition and transportation costs of its transfer students, but the costs caused deep financial trouble for the Normandy district, which needed $1.5 million from the Missouri legislature to stay afloat.
Missouri Solicitor General James Layton argued in court that the Normandy schools would be insolvent by Oct. 31 if it had to continue paying the transfer students' costs.
Burton wrote that he sympathizes with state board and the Normandy Schools Collaborative, but said predictions about Normandy's financial condition this fall "are too speculative to control the outcome of this ruling."
"Regardless," Burton wrote, "the State Board had no authority to create the classification that it did."
The state Department of Education said in a statement Friday that it created the schools collaborative after hearing from "hundreds of Normandy residents, parents and students asking for Normandy schools to remain open."
Officials with school districts named in the lawsuit said they would comply with decision, but only for the children whose parents filed the lawsuit.
However, Joshua Schindler, the attorney for the parents, said the ruling should apply to all Normandy students wanting to attend higher-performing schools.
"No one can read this order as anything other than the state and districts should allow all kids to transfer," he said.