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.