Local News

Family Claims Lawsuit Highlights Wake Schools' 'Systemic Injustice'

Posted July 19, 2004

— In Wake County, it takes a campaign-like effort to get your child into the year-round school of your choice.

Lots of families are waiting to find out where they will end up -- except for one family, which sued to get their special-needs son into a year-round school.

Now, the case may get dismissed.

The Court of Appeals is expected to issue an opinion any day. But the family in the middle of the court fight got what they wanted in the middle of the court fight. So now, the impact of the case is in question.

Jack and Cynthia Sullivan went to court to get their son, John, into a Wake County year-round school. Their special-needs son was denied a spot two years in a row even though experts said year-round was in his best interests.

Finally, John got in by the luck of a random drawing. Now, the Sullivans feel like the principle of the matter is left in limbo.

"Yes, it's about something more than the Sullivans," said parent Jack Sullivan. "It's larger than us. This is a systemic injustice."

The school system agrees this is a case of principle -- but a different principle.

"We stand behind our system," Wake schools Superintendent Bill McNeal said. "We have a lottery system as a result. It's not one where we're going to go in and change the result."

The school system's attorney filed a motion to have the case considered "moot."

"I would've also liked to have an opinion from the Court of Appeals," said Sullivan attorney Deborah Meyer.

Meyer said that probably means no ruling, no precedent.

"I'm sure the school district was concerned that there was an adverse judgement in our favor," Sullivan said.

When asked if it was hard to accept that John's acceptance into the year-round school was random, Sullivan said: "Oh, very much so."

McNeal said there is no reason to be suspicious. He said Sullivan and every other year-round applicant are treated the same.

"One-hundred percent (random)," McNeal said. "Absolutely, no reason to doubt it. One-hundred percent."

McNeal said the school system has no reason to back down from the court fight because it won in Wake County Superior Court.

The Sullivans said John already has started year-round school. They said they are very happy with the change and that John is doing well.

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