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JCPS Student Assignment Hears Arguments, Judges Not Impressed With District’s Plan

The Kentucky Court of Appeals heard oral arguments today over an interpretation of a state statute, which could affect the JCPS student assignment plan.

The debate was between the words enroll versus attend.

Since 2000, a state statute (KRS 159.070) has allowed districts to chose where students go to school by removing the word “attend” in legislative language, said Bryon Leet, a JCPS board attorney. Leet said  JCPS can enroll a student at one school and have them attend another, like in the case of the current student assignment plan. But that’s not the state law’s intent, said Bruce Miller, an appellant attorney.

“My belief was that when I enrolled in Vanderbilt University undergraduate school in 1962, I attended Vanderbilt. I didn’t enroll there to go to Peabody across the street,” said Miller.

But Leet argued the law’s language is specific and that the word enroll doesn’t mean that a student must attend that school. And, he said, state law allows districts to make decisions about student assignment as long as it meets three factors: education, health and welfare, he said.

But JCPS misinterpreted the statute, said Ted Gordon, an appellant attorney. Gordon said the words are used interchangeably and that it’s common sense to assume a student would attend the school where they enroll.

“And to make these neighborhood schools a depository for paperwork that’s not the intent of the statute in any way shape or form,” said Gordon.

In the current JCPS plan, students are assigned to certain schools depending on a diversity quota, based on income, education and race.

But a 2007 Supreme Court decision (Meredith v. The Jefferson County Board of Education)  said no single student could be assigned to a school by race. The district argued it uses all three factors to make its quota, said Leet.

“In the minds of many educated professionals in this subject and in the minds of this elected school board it furthers the education achievement of everyone in order to avoid racial isolation,” he said.

Regardless, the JCPS student assignment plan hasn’t improved the district and test scores have dropped, said Judge Kelly Thompson. He went on to say the district should consider reverting back to neighborhood schools and by relying on race in any form to meet its diversity quota ignores previous court decisions.

“These three justices were very, very strong to tell the school board that they have over litigated this matter and they were not accepting any semantic difference between enroll and attend and to return to neighborhood schools,” said Gordon who joked that a rebuttal wasn’t necessary at the end of Wednesday’s hearing.

A decision is expected in the next four to six weeks, said assistant JCPS board assistant attorney Lisa DeJaco. If the Kentucky Court of Appeals should rule against JCPS, the case could head to the State Supreme Court, she said. But it could be six months to a year before the State Supreme Court decides whether to accept the case.

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Gordon To Represent Frayser Student

Attorney Ted Gordon is considering legal action in the case of the assault against a 2nd grader at Frayser Elementary.

The victim, who is being called M.H., was found hanging by his shirt from a hook in the bathroom of the school on March 23.  His brother says two 5th grade students told him they were responsible for the assault and that he was next.

Gordon says he believes the boys were targeted because they had complained about bullying.

“Clearly this was a calculated and premeditated and if they understood the actions and the result of their actions…and this be the case, we’re still investigating,”he says “then juvenile court authorities should investigate and see whether or not they should be prosecuted.”

School officials insist there was a teacher at the door of the bathroom when M.H. was assaulted. Gordon believes this may not have been the case and that the school may bear some responsibility for the attack.

“Our information is that there is a question whether or not the teacher was at the door the entire time,” Gordon says, “both MH and his brother totally state that these two fifth graders are the ones that assaulted and attempted to kill MH.”

Gordon says believes the boy was targeted because of complaints from him or his parents about bullying.  The boy’s brother says he has received threats from the two fifth graders and that they claimed responsibility for the assault.

Jefferson County Public Schools has said they were unaware of any complaints of bullying and that it is now a police investigation and they are awaiting the results.

Jefferson County Public Schools has said it is now a police investigation and they are awaiting the results.

Gordon also plans to request that the children be transferred to another school.

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Parents Of Ballard Student Sue JCPS Over Athletic Policy

The parents of a Ballard High School student are suing Jefferson County Public Schools over the district’s refusal to allow the student to play sports at Ballard this year.

The tenth grader transferred to Ballard from Manual High School, where she had complained of being bullied.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association granted her an exemption to play softball and other sports at Ballard without the usual one-year waiting period for transfers.

However, according to the suit, JCPS would not grant its own waiver because it would violate district policy aimed at preventing school-to-school athlete recruitment.

Attorney Ted Gordon represents the girl’s parents, Steve and Jenny Martin. He says JCPS should abide by the state body’s ruling.

“They (KHSAA) looked at this case, they granted her an exemption, which doesn’t happen very often—without lawyers—this is from a hearing officer that happens quite frequently. I’ve had hearings there, usually they’re denied. In this particular case it was granted,” he said.

A JCPS spokesperson said the district would not comment on pending litigation.

(Pictured, from left: Steve Martin, attorney Ted Gordon, Jenny Martin)

Local News Next Louisville

Judge Denies Motions In JCPS Suit

A Jeffrerson circuit judge has denied a request by Louisville attorney Ted Gordon to reopen a suit that challenges the Jefferson County Public Schools’ student assignment plan.

The suit claims that JCPS has been in violation of a state law that allows parents to enroll their children in the school closest to their home. Maze ruled last month that enrollment does not guarantee attendance at a given school.

Gordon filed two motions, one asking Maze to reconsider his decision. The other requested that he reopen the case to allow new testimony based on recent statements made by school officials.

Maze overruled both motions. Gordon says he wants to file an appeal of Maze’s original ruling directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Local News Next Louisville

Gordon Files Motion To Reopen JCPS Suit

Louisville attorney Ted Gordon was back in court Monday, filing a motion that asks a judge to reopen Gordon’s suit challenging Jefferson County Public Schools student assignment plan.

Gordon is basing his motion on recent public statements made about the plan.

Circuit Judge Irv Maze this month dismissed the suit that claimed JCPS was in violation of a state law that allows parents to enroll their children in the school closest to their home. Maze ruled that the law doesn’t guarantee children the right to attend that school.

Gordon wants the judge to give the case a second look, saying school officials and others have been using the terms “enroll’ and “attend” interchangably.

“If he sees fit, due to statements that have been made by (JCPS) Superintendent (Sheldon) Berman,
spokespeople for JCPS, adminstrators and board members, as well as state senators, to reopen the case for the taking of proof,” Gordon said.

JCPS Superintendent Sheldon Berman says Gordon is just trying to keep the pot stirred and the only language that matters is what’s in the state law.

“The judge was very clear, the decision was decisive and I don’t see that changing,” Berman said.

Maze is expected to consider Gordon’s motion next week.

Local News

JCPS Suit Dismissed

A Jefferson circuit judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Jefferson County Public Schools’ student assignment plan.

Thirteen parents claimed in the suit that the plan violates a state law that gives them the right to enroll their children at the school closest to their home.

JCPS lawyers argued that having the right to enroll doesn’t necessarily guarantee the right to attend a given school.

Superintendent Sheldon Berman (right) says he’s pleased with the decision.                

“Judge Maze basically agreed with the arguments we were making. We made a good case and now we’re going to move forward with the student assignment plan as we were before,” he said.

Jefferson Circuit Judge Irv Maze issued his ruling Thursday, a week after hearing arguments in the case.

Lawyers for the parents say they will appeal the ruling.

“There is a procedure to bypass the intermediate court of appeals and ask the (state) Supreme Court to take it directly. We’ll also file that motion when we file the appeal,” said Ted Gordon (below right), one of three plaintiffs’ attorneys.   

Berman says preparations for the new academic year would not have been disrupted had Maze ruled against JCPS, since the decision would have been appealed by the school district.

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Student Assignment Suit Dropped

The plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against Jefferson County Public Schools over the district’s new student assignment plan have dropped their suit.

Their attorney, Ted Gordon, says the parents have had their complaints with JCPS resolved or have opted to home school their children.

A handful of  parents of kindergarten students claimed the children were assigned to their schools based solely on race.  Gordon  says it’s possible he could bring additional cases to the court if other parents come to him with complaints.

The  U.S.  Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the previous JCPS assignment plan was unconstitutional because it relied to heavily on race.