One day after the Missouri Board of Education voted to replace the Normandy school district with a new, state-controlled entity, Normandy filed suit challenging the law that lets students transfer from unaccredited districts.
The law, which resulted in about 1,000 Normandy students going to other districts in the school year that is coming to an end, has been upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court twice. The most recent ruling, which was unanimous, came last June and set off a scramble to put into place logistics for transfers from Normandy and Riverview Gardens, which is the only other unaccredited school district in the St. Louis area.
In a statement released late Wednesday, William Humphrey, president of the Normandy school board, said the board waited on the suit until lawmakers acted last week to pass a wide-ranging bill dealing with school transfers and other matters. The Normandy board has urged Gov. Jay Nixon to veto the bill, saying it doesn’t really deal with the problems Normandy faces.
“It was our fervent hope that Missouri lawmakers would rectify the catastrophic effect the transfer statute has had upon the students and residents of the Normandy community,” Humphrey said in Wednesday’s statement.
“However, given the economic urgency and absence of an equitable solution emanating from the state legislature, we had no other alternative but to ask for judicial intervention.”
Ty McNichols, who became superintendent of the Normandy district last July 1, as the transfer program was taking hold, added:
“Our district has always considered a legal approach. We have intentionally waited to see what legislators were going to do.
“Based on their inaction to rectify the financial aspect of the transfer law and DESE’s decision on Tuesday to lapse the Normandy School District on June 30, which also does not address the financial issue, we felt obligated to expedite the execution of the legal case.”
Normandy has been unaccredited since Jan. 1, 2013, after years of failing to achieve full accreditation from the state. The financial drain from the costs of tuition and in some cases transportation for the students that transferred from the district prompted the state to appropriate emergency funds for it to be able to finish the current school year.
But state officials have said repeatedly that there were serious doubts that the district would be able to provide the education required going forward, so the state board voted unanimously Tuesday in Columbia to replace the district with a new Normandy Schools Collaborative, effective July 1. It will be governed by an appointed board that will report directly to the state board.
It was not immediately clear whether under current law, students living in Normandy would be allowed to transfer to accredited schools next year. It also is unclear whether Nixon will sign or veto the 135-page school bill passed last week. He has expressed strong reservations over one provision that would allow students to transfer to non-sectarian private schools.
In an effort to stay afloat financially, Normandy shed more than 100 jobs and closed an elementary school in the middle of the current school year. But it has not been able to recover from the costs associated with the transfers.
In the statement released on Wednesday announcing the lawsuit, the district pointedly said that when the transfer law was upheld, 200 students who had never attended district schools before moved into the district to take advantage of the opportunity to attend other schools at Normandy’s expense.
Named in the lawsuit filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court were the state of Missouri, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the state board of education and 20 area school districts. It was filed on behalf of the district and what the statement described as “several parents and tax-paying residents.” The district said the suit challenges the "validity and implementation" of the transfer law, which was passed in 1993 but never took effect until this school year.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education did not reply immediately to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Besides the school board’s request to Nixon to veto the school transfer bill passed last week, others have asked the same, including some members of the legislature who represent the district. But others, most notably state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, have urged Nixon to sign the bill, saying that it provides much-needed options for students to get a better education.
In its statement urging a veto, passed unanimously, the Normandy board said:
“Since reviewing the bill, we have serious concerns about our financial future as well as the education Normandy students will receive if their test scores are not counted for five years in the receiving districts that reduce their tuition rates.”