Local News

Court rules against parental consent in school calendar battle

Posted May 6, 2008 8:59 a.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2008 7:38 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Wake County Board of Education has the right to change schools from traditional to year-round schedules and to assign students to them without parental consent.

The unanimous decision by the three-member appeals court panel is the result of a lawsuit that parents and the nonprofit WakeCARES brought against the board in 2007 because it planned to use year-round schools to manage space for Wake County's growing student population.

"If plaintiffs (WakeCARES and the parents) disagree with mandatory assignment to year-round schools, their remedy lies with the electoral process or through communications with the legislative and executive branches of government," Tuesday's ruling stated.

WakeCARES and the parents argued that the board was outside its authority in making changes mandatory and that offering different calendars for different schools violated the state constitution's requirement for "uniform and regular education on equal terms."

WakeCARES co-founder Dawn Graff said the group is disappointed by the appeals court's ruling and is reviewing its options and seeking a discretionary review by the state Supreme Court.

"I think it's a grave concern to people that there are no checks and balances and nothing to discourage the school board from not doing things they wish to do, no matter how unpopular," Graff said.

School board members voted Tuesday afternoon to leave the student assignment plan for 2008-09 in place, although any student registering for school after June 1 will be assigned to the base school serving the student's area, regardless of whether it's a tradition school or year-round one.

The district also plans to send new consent forms in the coming days. Any parent that doesn't opt out of attending a base school with a year-round calendar by the June 1 deadline will be assigned to that school.

Previously, not replying to a consent form meant that a student would be assigned to a traditional school.

Students who applied for a traditional-calendar school during a February application period won't be affected by Tuesday's ruling.

"We aren't doing year-round because the school board loves year-round," school board member Lori Millberg said. "We do year-round because taxpayers say we've hit our limit about how much more money we want to spend building schools."

"If people aren't happy with the way it's going, they have the electoral process," she added.

Last year, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning ordered the school board to get parental permission before assigning students to year-round schools.

Wake County Board of Education attorney Ann Majestic argued that nowhere does state law limit a school board's authority to assign students to year-round schools and nowhere does it require districts to make school assignments voluntary.

WakeCARES' attorney, Robert Hunter, argued that parents are entitled to a uniform educational experience that is nine consecutive months.

Majestic pointed out that law only specifies dates when school boards can set school calendars and that a school year must be nine months in length.

Year-round schools, she argued, operate on a nine-weeks-on, three-weeks-off schedule and are consistent. Traditional-calendar schools actually run about 11 calendar months, she said.