Unaccredited School Districts
11:17 am
Fri June 20, 2014

Normandy Students Can No Longer Transfer To Francis Howell; Normandy Drops Lawsuit

The Francis Howell School District announced today it will no longer accept transfer students from Normandy.  The district was expecting roughly 350 students who transferred last fall to continue during the coming school year. Last summer, the soon-to-be-dissolved Normandy School District selected Francis Howell as its transportation option for students. 

Because the Normandy Schools Collaborative will have no accreditation status, the Francis Howell district said it is no longer legally obligated to accept transfer students.

The district also released the following statement:

FHSD has consistently held the beliefs that transferring students from an unaccredited school district is not the solution to improving struggling schools, and that the funds spent on tuition and transportation for transfer students can be more effectively spent on educating the whole Normandy student population. Children have a right and a need to have quality schools in their neighborhood. 

FHSD will work closely with the NSC to make the transition as smooth as possible for the affected students and families.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), which oversees the newly formed Normandy Schools Collaborative, released a statement that said the transfer program is not sustainable as it currently stands.

“The department will do everything we can to ensure access to quality education for the children and families involved,” DESE said in a statement.  “Unfortunately, the transfer program is not sustainable in its current form. The state Board of Education is working to balance the need for choice with the educational needs of the students served in the Normandy Schools Collaborative.

When asked if DESE would select a new transportation option for students, a department spokesperson pointed back to guidelines for the new district that state:  “The Normandy Schools Collaborative will provide transportation in the 2014-15 School Year to the school district to which transportation was provided in the 2013-14 School Year.”  

Students will not be able to request to transfer to another district because the guidelines for the new district only allow students to transfer to the same district they transferred to during the 2013-14 school year.   

St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt, who sharply criticized the move, said early fears raised by some Francis Howell parents about receiving transfer students from Normandy never materialized.

“They didn’t suffer all of this violence and increasing crime and all the other stuff that folks at the hearing early on predicted would happen if they accepted the kids from the transfer program,” Pruitt said.  “At the end of the day, there was a net zero effect on educating children at Frances Howell as a result of those kids being there. It’s a terrible decision. I think that over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be making some stronger statements to deal with the response of Frances Howell as it relates to thumbing its nose at educating African-American kids in the St. Louis region."

Normandy drops legal challenges 

The unaccredited Normandy School District has dropped its request for a temporary restraining order to block its takeover by state officials and its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the student transfer law. 

“By virtue of the state board’s action this past Monday, they fixed a lot of the objectives of the lawsuit: viability of the district, economic stability, local representation,” said Richard Ulrich, an attorney for Normandy. 

Credit (via Google Maps screen capture)

Attorneys representing the unaccredited district had sought to block more than $2 million in April and May tuition payments for students who transferred to accredited districts. Transportation and tuition bills for the roughly 1,000 students who transferred out of Normandy drove the north St. Louis County district to the brink of bankruptcy.   

Last week, the state board gave the go-ahead for Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to rein in the costs of the transfer law for the newly formed Normandy Schools Collaborative, setting a limit on tuition the new district would pay to $7,239 a student. 

“We believe the presence of the lawsuit caused DESE to respond to our concerns regarding our students and the district’s future,” William Humphrey, president of the Normandy School District Board of Education, said in a statement.

The new rules will keep the transportation option to Francis Howell in place, but receiving districts can decide if they will accept students at the new tuition rate DESE is willing to pay. Because the new district has no accreditation status, DESE says the district has flexibility in the tuition it will pay for transfer students.  The department does not have the authority to compel a district to pay the new tuition amount, and should a receiving district refuse, the student will not be able to transfer.     

The new rules also limit eligibility for participation in the transfer program. For a student to continue in the transfer program, he or she would have had to attend school in Normandy during the 2012-13 school year.   That removes the transfer option for about 130 students, and no new students in Normandy can take part in the program. 

Three parents of children who transferred last year, but will not be able to transfer under the rules, have filed a lawsuit against DESE that alleges the move violates their constitutional rights.

“You’re telling me that you’re not going to be afforded the same rights as other parents,” said Gaylard Williams, an attorney for the parents.  “But we’re still going to require that you pay taxes.  How can that be fair?”

Connie Holtrop, who sent her three sons to the Ladue schools this past year, is listed as one of the three plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“I’ve contemplated selling my house, which I really don’t want to do” Holtrop said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio this week.   ‘I’ve contemplated renting out my house and renting an apartment or renting a home somewhere in the Ladue School District area. I’ve thought at length about it.

“I want the stability for my kids and the excellent, excellent resources that the Ladue school district provides for my kids. They’re absolutely phenomenal, and I’m totally impressed with how they worked with my kids. So I could make significant sacrifices elsewhere and disrupt my own home situation potentially to be able to provide for my kids.”

Holtrop was originally asked to be part of the Normandy transition task force that came up with recommendations for the new state-run district, but she said she could not attend meetings because she had just started a new job.

It remains unclear how the changes will affect kindergarten age students who transferred and were too young to have gone to school in Normandy during the 2012-13 school year.  According to a DESE spokesperson, the department is working on revised rules for students in this situation.  

At its meeting this month, the board approved a number of recommendations for the new district that were submitted by a state-appointed task force, including the appointment of new board members.  In May the State Board of Education voted to lapse the Normandy School District and replace it with the Normandy School Collaborative.