Local News

N.C. Supreme Court hears year-round school case

Posted December 16, 2008 5:40 a.m. EST
Updated December 16, 2008 6:39 p.m. EST

— A group of parents who have been fighting how Wake County handles school reassignment got their day in court Tuesday when the state Supreme Court heard their case.

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

The parents say the Wake County Public School System should have asked them about moving their children from school to school 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.

"There is under-enrollment in year-round schools and over-enrollment at traditional schools. The parents don't want it," said Attorney Robert Hunter, representing WakeCARES.

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.

“The policy is bad for families and families are being cut out of the decision in their children's lives,” WakeCARES parent Dawn Graff said.

Parents 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 county then scrambled to get out permission forms.

"There's not a fundamental right to a school calendar. There's a fundamental right to an equal opportunity to a sound, basic education," said Attorney Ann Majestic, representing the school system.

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.

In May of this year, 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. In August, the high court agreed to hear the case, setting the stage for Tuesday's arguments.

“Regardless of the resolution, we're glad we had an opportunity to have the hearing today,” school board Chairwoman Rosa Gill said.

The seven justices could take three months to a year to make a decision. Until then, the school system will continue to ask for parental consent before assigning students to year-round schools.