Local News

Supreme Court halts Wake year-round plans

Posted May 22, 2008 2:49 p.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2008 9:33 p.m. EDT

— The state Supreme Court issued an order Thursday that prevents the Wake County school system from assigning students to year-round schools without parental consent.

The state Court of Appeals had ruled two weeks ago that the district didn't need parental consent to send students to schools converted to year-round calendars. The stay issued Thursday blocks the district from acting on that ruling until the high court decides whether to review the case.

School Superintendent Del Burns said he was unaware of the court's action and couldn't immediately comment on it.

School board Chairwoman Rosa Gill said the district would once again use consent forms to determine year-round assignments until the case is resolved.

"We have to do what we have to do. I don't think we're going to change our focus on teaching and learning, no matter what factors come into play," Gill said.

The district's attorneys were reviewing the Supreme Court's order Thursday evening and will advise the school board how to proceed, spokesman Michael Evans said.

A parents' group called WakeCARES sued the district last year over its plans to convert 22 elementary and middle schools from traditional schedules to year-round calendars. They contended the district didn't have the authority to mandate attendance at year-round schools and said the new schedule would disrupt the lives of hundreds of families.

District administrators maintain they needed to operate more schools on year-round calendars to accommodate growing enrollments. The rotating schedules of students at year-round schools mean that each school can handle about 25 percent more students than it would accommodate on a traditional calendar.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning sided with the parents last May, saying the district needed the consent of parents before assigning any student to a year-round school.

The district proceeded to convert the schools, but hundreds of families opted out of going to them and were assigned to traditional schools for the 2007-08 year, leaving some schools under-enrolled and others extremely overcrowded.

The appeals court overturned Manning's ruling, saying state law doesn't preclude a school district from assigning students to year-round schools.

Despite that ruling, the school board voted to leave the student assignment plan for 2008-09 in place. However, students registering after June 1 or not returning a consent letter by that date would be assigned to a year-round school under the board's plan.

"A stay and writ will require that the parental notification will continue in compliance with Judge Manning's order. The continuance of this process will have the effect of quantifying the number of parents who desire a traditional school assignment for their children for the next school year," Robert Hunter, the attorney for WakeCARES, wrote in a motion requesting the stay. "A stay ... will also continue to secure the constitutional rights of parents to direct their children's education against invidious actions by the board."

Dawn Graff, one of the founders of WakeCARES, said the group was pleased by the stay.

"It gives parents more time to opt out under Judge Manning's ruling. We are cautiously optimistic regarding the Supreme Court hearing the case," Graff said.