ST. LOUIS — A group of Normandy school district parents has filed suit over recent changes to student attendance rules that limit the number of pupils who can transfer to better-performing schools in other districts.
Seven parents filed a lawsuit Monday in St. Louis County Circuit Court against the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the state Board of Education and the newly formed Normandy Schools Collaborative. The complaint also names the Brentwood, Clayton, Ladue, Parkway, Pattonville and Ritenour school systems.
The suit comes after Missouri officials disbanded the unaccredited Normandy system in favor of a newly named entity under state oversight, effective July 1. That decision allows school districts that had previously accepted Normandy transfers to limit the numbers of those students in the coming school year, or like Ritenour, to not take any children from there.
The suit also targets districts such as Brentwood, Ladue and Parkway that have agreed to continue accepting Normandy transfers — albeit at a much lower rate of tuition reimbursement paid by Normandy to the receiving district — but which as instructed by the state won't allow those students to return if they hadn't spent at least one semester in Normandy schools in the 2012-13 school year.
That restriction unfairly penalizes Normandy families who previously sent their children to private or parochial schools before taking advantage of a state Supreme Court decision in summer 2013 that paved the way for the exodus from the troubled Normandy system, said plaintiff's attorney Joshua Schindler.
"They created two classes of kids," he said. "If your parents can scrape together enough money to send you to a private or parochial school, we're going to penalize you."
Officials with the state education department and the Missouri Attorney General's Office declined comment Monday since they had not seen the lawsuit, which asks the court to quickly issue an injunction against the state's decision. Administrators at the half-dozen local school districts named in the suit also declined to comment or did not immediately respond to interview requests.
Melanie Johnson said her 13-year-old son Joseph and his 9-year-old brother Jonathan thrived during their sole year in Parkway schools after previously attending New Life Christian School in Bridgeton. Johnson said she and her husband tried to send their two children to neighborhood public schools in 2010 but pulled them out after just a few days when it became clear the classes weren't challenging enough.
"We've lived in this district for 10 years and paid taxes," she said. "They've taken away our rights, and they've taken away all our options."
The lawsuit notably doesn't name the Francis Howell district in St. Charles County, which also decided to stop accepting Normandy transfers after taking more than 400 students from there last year. Nearly 1,000 students transferred from the north St. Louis County district in the most recent academic year, pushing the school system to the brink of bankruptcy as it paid neighboring districts thousands of dollars for each departing student's tuition and transportation costs.
Schindler said the legal move wasn't designed to include every area district that capped its Normandy transfers but instead represented a cross-section of local districts with affected parents willing to serve as plaintiffs.
Normandy encompasses 24 municipalities and unincorporated areas of St. Louis County and has been unaccredited since the start of 2013. In June, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a measure that would have allowed the use of public money to pay for students from unaccredited districts to attend private schools while also eliminating the requirement that those districts pay for students' transportation to new schools.
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