Local News

N.C. high court upholds mandatory year-round schools

Posted May 1, 2009 11:38 a.m. EDT
Updated May 1, 2009 6:27 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that school systems do not need parental consent to assign students to year-round schools.

WakeCARES, a Wake County parent's group that has fought mandatory year-round school assignments, requested a Supreme Court hearing on the case after an appellate court last year sided with the county.

The parents have said the Wake County Public School System should have asked permission before reassigning students as it decided to convert 22 elementary and middle schools to year-round calendars for the 2007-08 school year to keep pace with enrollment growth.

Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson said in the 4-3 opinion that the Wake County Board of Education was doing "its duty to provide a school system adequate to the needs of increasing student enrollment."

She went on to say that the justices "recognize the emotional nature of the case" but that their "duty goes no further than to determine the legal authority for implementing mandatory year-round schools, not the wisdom of such a decision."

Justice Robert Edmunds Jr. wrote in a concurring opinion that parents who object could seek to have their children reassigned from a year-round school. Edmunds said if voters don't like the school board's decision, they could vote board member out of office.

There will be four open seats on the school board in October.

Wake school board Chairwoman Rosa Gill said Friday that with the Supreme Court's decision, the school system can move forward with doing what is best for students.

"It's not a win or lose type of decision, because we want to provide the best education possible," she said. "I see this as giving us the option to address the needs of our schools."

Patrice Lee, a member of WakeCARES, said the group is disappointed by the decision, saying parental input in student assignment has been further limited.

"While we were not successful in getting the 'pot of gold' at the end of the rainbow, we were able to expose the true colors of the WCPSS and the administration," she said in a written statement.

Because year-round schools rotate four "tracks" of students through a schedule of nine weeks of classes and three-week vacations, the schools can accommodate more students than traditional schools. One track is always on break.

WakeCARES sued the school district to block the move, and Superior Court Judge Howard Manning ruled in May 2007 that parents had to give their consent before students could be assigned to year-round schools.

The ruling left the school system scrambled to get out permission forms before the school year began.

Most families assigned to the converted year-round schools approved of the move, but then hundreds of families opted to remain in traditional schools. That left some year-round schools under-enrolled and aggravated overcrowding at some traditional schools.

Last May, a year after Manning's decision, the state Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that school district officials did not need parental consent to assign students to year-round schools.

The school system, however, has continued seeking parental consent until the Supreme Court's ruling.

Gill said Friday no decisions have been made about how to proceed with the ruling in place. The school board meets on Tuesday.

"It's going to be a board decision on what to do," she said.