Updated at 5:07 p.m., Fri., June 27.
The University City School District’s board voted Thursday evening no longer to accept transfer students from Normandy.
The 80 students who were signed up to return to the district but can no longer continue in the transfer program join the 350 students who, a week ago, were told they could no longer go to school in Francis Howell.
State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, sits on the board and worked on the bill that revised the school transfer law but was vetoed this week by Gov. Jay Nixon. She said she voted against accepting students from Normandy in part because they would weigh down academic performance in the district. The district is fully accredited, although it scored in the provisionally accredited range last year under the most current version of the Missouri School Improvement Plan (MSIP5).
“A good bulk of those kids are at the high school,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “We’ve been working really aggressively to increase our outcomes for our students so that we can get to full accreditation. Their outcomes would only negatively affect us.”
In a statement issued on Friday afternoon, the district said it is confident that it will remain fully accredited when the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) evaluates three years of MSIP5 data. State officials have said that they will look at three years of data before changing a district's accreditation status.
Chappelle-Nadal said that accepting students at a lower tuition rate of $7,236, which is a provision for accepting transfer student from the new state-run Normandy Schools Collaborative, would mean the district would have had fewer resources to assist struggling students. Though Chapelle-Nadal said she wears “two hats” as both as both a state senator, she said her decision was based purely on what she felt was in the district’s best interests.
“My obligation at the school board is on behalf of the people of University City,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “That’s it.”
Board member George Lenard, an attorney, voted to accept transfer students but voted against a separate motion to accept a lower tuition rate. He said after studying the law, it wasn’t clear that the state board’s move to create the Normandy Schools Collaborative removed the obligation of a receiving district to accept transfer students.
“Under some future circumstance, we could be forced to accept them by a court,” Lenard said. “If that occurred it would be important to have a tuition rate decided.”
Lenard did not justify his votes because of concerns about students from Normandy potentially having a negative impact on the district’s accreditation score.
“I think everybody had feelings about not wanting to disrupt the lives of students, but we had to put other concerns first, for University City students and taxpayers,” Lenard said.
Board member Linda Peoples-Jones said her vote to continue accepting students from Normandy was more personal.
“Had I been in that situation, dealing with what Normandy parents are going through, I would want somebody to look at it from my perspective,” Peoples-Jones said.
Board member Tom Peters was not present at the meeting, and the vote to reject students from Normandy was split among the six members in attendance. Chappelle-Nadal, along with Charlotte Tatum and John Clark represented votes against accepting Normandy transfers. Peoples-Jones and Lenard were joined by Lisa Brenner in casting votes to continue accepting Normandy transfers.
In the event of a tie, district policy states that a motion fails. However, even if Peters had voted to continue accepting transfer students from Normandy the point would likely have been moot. All six members of the board voted not to accept the lower tuition rate that the state said it is willing to pay for students continuing to transfer out of Normandy. The board also voted not to accept a reduced tuition amount for transfer students from Riverview Gardens.
The district's proposed tuition rate for the coming school year for K-5 students is $12,413; for grades six through eight the proposed rate is $13,283; and for high school the proposed rate is $14,381.
Researchers say the hundreds of students returning to Normandy could face a string of both academic and emotional hurdles.
“It’s disruptive,” said Kathleen Sullivan Brown, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “We have to come up with a long term solution so that we don’t continue to have this disruption.”
Of the 928 Normandy students enrolled in other districts as of April, about 561 can no longer transfer because they either no longer qualify under new standards approved by the state board or receiving districts will no longer accept them. Meanwhile, hundreds of other Normandy transfer students will learn their fate in the coming weeks as school boards across the St. Louis region weigh their options.
“We know a lot from sociological research that students who are moving from setting to setting, they’re going to have challenges,” said William Tate, chair of the department of education at Washington University. “This is going to be two moves in two years and we don’t know how often children may have moved prior to this.”
In a sense, he said, it’s a third move when it comes to classroom instruction. The new Normandy Schools Collaborative begins operations on July 1, and its curriculum is still in development.
“Even though the state has standards and everyone is supposed to work at the same level, each district has established their own cognitive demand related to the curriculum experience,” Tate said. “Now these students are going to have shift back into a different standard.”
At the same time, both Tate and Sullivan Brown said don’t underestimate the resiliency of students and teachers.
“Schools and teachers can be very good at coping with all these issues,” said Brown. “But you just keep making the path that much difficult for everyone.”