Lawmakers, including Rep. Sue Allen, R-Town and County, are inviting community members to discuss what could have a big impact on St. Louis area schools.
A recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling in the case of June Turner v. School District of Clayton could result in a rapid influx of students from unaccredited schools transferring to neighboring districts. Students from the unaccredited districts can choose to attend any accredited district in the same or adjoining county. Furthermore, the court contends that the accepting district has no discretion in the matter.
Despite several proposals, the legislative session yielded no fix to the court decision. Local school officials are concerned that the lack of local control would force them to increase class size and add classrooms, which could ultimately result in tax increases for district residents. In the St. Louis area, both the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) and Riverview Gardens School District are unaccredited.
Community members are invited to attend a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Chesterfield City Hall, 690 Chesterfield Parkway W, to discuss the case.
"In the beginning, the representatives and senators there will go over a wrap-up and explain what the exact impact could be for schools and certain solutions that are floating around—both judicial and legislative," said Matt Schumann, legislative assistant to Rep. Allen.
Allen won't be in attendance but is sending a representative. Other legislators who are scheduled to attend include: Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield; Rep. Cole McNary, R-Chesterfield; Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington; Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-Ballwin; and Rep. Don Gosen, R-Chesterfield.
Schumann said after the legislators go over the information, the floor will be open for discussion. Anyone is welcome to ask questions, and it will be a somewhat informal sort of gathering.
"Some background knowledge might help, but you'll learn a lot," Schumann said.
Turner v. Clayton: History of the case
Shortly after the St. Louis school district lost its accreditation in 2007, Jane Turner and three other parents, representing six students attending the School District of Clayton, sued the Clayton and St. Louis districts and the City of St. Louis Board of Education. The students, who live in the SLPS district, were attending Clayton schools based on personal tuition agreements.
The plaintiffs claimed that the SLPS district should pay their children’s tuition because it had become unaccredited and that the Clayton district should send the tuition bills to the transitional district. The parents pointed to a state statute that requires unaccredited districts to pay the tuition costs of its students who choose to attend an accredited school in an adjoining district.
The St. Louis County Circuit ruled in favor of both school districts, finding that the statute was inapplicable to the SLPS district. After several appeals, the case ended up going to the Missouri Supreme Court. In July, it issued its opinion and subsequently sent the case back to the lower courts to decide.
Tennill said the Supreme Court weighed in on three key issues. In a nutshell, they include:
1. The state law that the plaintiffs cited does apply to the SLPS district. Contrary to the lower court's judgment, the Supreme Court maintains that unaccredited districts should pay the tuition for students who choose to attend accredited districts.
2. Tuition agreements supercede the plaintiffs' rights for restitution. The Supreme Court decided that the parents are not entitled to restitution for tuition paid to Clayton because the St. Louis public schools became unaccredited because of existing tuition agreements.
3. School districts are required to accept any student from an unaccredited district. On a 4-3 vote, the court concluded that other state laws giving districts discretion in deciding whether or not to admit students from unaccredited districts do not apply under existing state law. Furthermore, it noted that legislators in 1993 removed a section of the statute that read: "but no school shall be required to admit any pupil."
Associate Editor Sheri Gassaway contributed to this report.
Read Previous Stories: