JCPS, Parents Make Final Arguments to Kentucky’s Highest Court

by Devin Katayama on April 18, 2012

The debate over whether students have the right to attend their neighborhood schools may soon be decided by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The high court heard arguments Wednesday morning on whether the word “attendance” was deliberately removed from state law (KRS 159.070) in 1990. The state Court of Appeals ruled last year that the law does allow students to attend the school where they enroll, which in JCPS is the neighborhood school.

The JCPS board argued removal of the word “attendance” allows students to be bused around the district for its diversity plan.

But a group of parents opposing this argument said that the words enroll and attend should be considered synonymous.

“There was a contemplation that enroll means attend. If there hadn’t been, if they’d been any different meaning we would have had a record. It is devoid of a record. So the law clearly says if its unambiguous, common sense meaning applies,” said attorney Teddy Gordon, who represents the families involved.

JCPS attorney Byron Leet said if the State Supreme Court upholds the appellate court’s decision, it’ll be impossible for the district to implement.

“The fact of the matter is in Jefferson County because of where the buildings are and because of where the population is today, everyone cannot attend the public school that is nearest to his or her home. It simply can’t happen,” he said.

Justices questioned both sides and which way the court may have leaned during the hearing remains uncertain.

Justice Mary Noble said it may be reasonable that lawmakers made the distinction between the words, particularly in JCPS.

“At the time when that particular change was made, is it not a fact that the legislature was well aware of the type of desegregation program under federal court order that was actually being carried out in Jefferson County?” she said.

The court will now take time to review the arguments and several briefs filed earlier this year. Attorneys for both sides expect a ruling later this year.

Brief History:

  • Beginning in 1954, Brown v. The Board of Education, school districts were ordered to take steps to eliminate racial segregation.
  • In 1975, a desegregation decree was ordered by a Western Kentucky federal court. For the next 25 years the desegregation plans were subject to revision and litigation.
  • Jefferson County citizens moved in 200o to dissolve the decree (Hampton v. The Jefferson County Board of Education). The families on the suit were African American and wanted to attend a magnet school but couldn’t because of diversity requirements.
  • In April 2001, the JCPS board adopted a revised student assignment plan effective for the 2001-2002 school year that required all nonmagnet schools to maintain quotas of a minimum black enrollment of 15 percent and a 50 percent maximum black enrollment.
  • In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that using race as the sole factor to determine where students went to school is unconstitutional.

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