Francis Howell School District

Robert Dillon, director of innovation for the Affton School District
courtesy photo

Racial disparities are a huge topic in education. And Missouri schools — specifically those in the St. Louis area — have been singled out as having some of the nation’s highest rates of suspensions that are disproportionately allocated to African Americans. 

Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you stories of people directly participating in that system. This week, we spoke to educators, who shared their own journeys of grappling with issues of race, poverty and discipline in local schools. 

Stephanie Zimmerman

As legal efforts continue to open the Francis Howell school district to students who want to transfer from Normandy, a new policy shift has increased the pool of students able to transfer to any local accredited district.

The move raises new concerns about the financial survival of Normandy, which was taken over by the state after transfer costs drove it to the brink of bankruptcy last school year.

Francis Howell website

The superintendent of the Francis Howell school district says that if court rulings continue to favor transfers from the new Normandy Schools Collaborative, as many as 350 students could end up returning to Francis Howell.

Last year, Howell ended the year with 430 students who had transferred under the law that says students living in an unaccredited school district can transfer to nearby accredited districts. Normandy had designated Francis Howell as the district to which it would pay tuition, so most students who left Normandy transferred there.

Stephanie Zimmerman | St. Louis Public Radio

After a hearing in St. Louis County Circuit Court Wednesday, Judge Michael Burton cleared the way for 13 more students to transfer out of the Normandy school district.

Burton had ruled last week that the Missouri state school board had acted improperly when it made changes that exempted students who live in Normandy from the benefits of Missouri’s school transfer law. As a result, he said, Normandy’s status should remain as unaccredited, and students should have the right to transfer to nearby accredited schools.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

Anxiety crept through SheRon Chaney when she heard that the Francis Howell School District would no longer accept about 350 transfer students from Normandy who were signed up to continue in the program. 

“Last year we were hopeful, this year we’re fearful,” she said. 

Chaney transferred her middle school aged daughter BrenNae to Maplewood Richmond Heights last year.  And even though Francis Howell’s decision —  made during a closed session of its school board — doesn’t affect her directly, it has Chaney and hundreds of other parents holding their breath.  

Flickr

One year ago Wednesday, the Missouri Supreme Court threw the lives of thousands of students, teachers, parents and school administrators into a turmoil that shows no signs of stopping.

By unanimously overturning a lower court ruling and allowing students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to nearby accredited schools, the court enforced a 20-year-old law in a way that no one had foreseen would ever happen.

As a result:

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Dear Beaconites -

Last month, I worried that the school transfer issue could evolve into a perfect storm of our region's most emotional and intractable problems. Urban-exurban resentments, timid leadership, educational inequality and race -- all potentially feed the mix.

(Erin Williams/St. Louis Public Radio)

Updated at 4:45 p.m. with comments from Francis Howell Central principal Sonny Arnel. Updated 5:39 p.m. with comments from parents and students.

Some transportation hiccups aside, the first day in the Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County appears to have gone smoothly.

Principal Sonny Arnel
Dale Singer | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: As bright yellow school buses pulled into the parking lot of Francis Howell Central High School on Thursday’s first day of class, the sentiment from students, parent and the principal was the same:

Principal Sonny Arnel said of the transfer students, “You're Spartans, but you're coming from a different situation. What can we do to help you?”

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon The topic of race was everywhere and nowhere in the room recently when Francis Howell School District officials hosted a town hall meeting about plans to accommodate students wishing to transfer from the failing Normandy School District.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Just one week after nearly three hours of emotional statements on both sides of the Francis Howell-Normandy transfer issue, the talk at the Howell school board meeting Thursday night turned to calmer, more reflective expressions of cooperation, collaboration – and how the district was going to get paid.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The new superintendent of Normandy schools had a lot of positive things he wanted to talk about Wednesday night, but much of the district’s board meeting was spent trying to counteract something negative – Normandy’s reputation for being unsafe.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: If parents who are caught up in the current swirl of controversy over student transfers are looking for someone to blame, Kathleen Brown Sullivan at the University of Missouri-St. Louis says there are plenty of places where fingers should be pointed.

Chris McDaniel, St. Louis Public Radio.

The Francis Howell School district is scrambling to accommodate St. Louis County's Normandy School students after a recent State Supreme Court ruling that students from unaccredited schools can be bussed to accredited schools in the same or adjacent counties.

Nearly three thousand parents attended a Francis Howell forum Thursday night to voice their concerns.

For almost three hours, parents raised a variety of issues - how it'll be paid for, how it will impact test scores and accreditation - but there was one concern that dwarfed all the others: security.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The superintendent of the Francis Howell school district expects to have 600 students transfer there from the unaccredited Normandy district – and if the audience at a packed public forum Thursday night is any indication, those transfers won’t always receive a warm welcome.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Under Missouri's school transfer law, students who live in unaccredited school districts may choose to attend a nearby, accredited district. The sending district must pay the students' tuition and must designate one district to which it will also pay transportation costs. 

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: An online petition asking Missouri lawmakers to limit the law that allows students living in unaccredited school districts to transfer to accredited ones has attracted scores of signatures since it was created late last week.

The petition, on the website change.org, is addressed to Gov. Jay Nixon and members of the Missouri House and Senate, specifically state Sen. Tom Dempsey, president pro tem of the Senate, and House Speaker Tim Jones.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Dear Beaconites --

News that the Normandy school district will bus students to Francis Howell schools raised a storm of controversy this week. Unless cool heads prevail, it could evolve into a perfect storm -- an ugly convergence of our region's most emotional and intractable problems.

What problems?

  • The Missouri House has given first-round approval to legislation that would return control of the St. Louis Police Department to the city. The department has been under state control since the Civil War. Last year, the bill fell 12 votes short of first-round approval, but this year it passed overwhelmingly, with more than 75 percent of lawmakers voting yes. Supporters added a new argument this year: that it doesn't make sense to subsidize the St. Louis Police Department while having to cut the state budget in other areas.