“John Walker” and his “Joshua Intervenors” have become the new “Lake View,” the vauge, ominous Sword of Damocles education advocates of unpopular positions have long dangled over the heads of policy makers to get what they want while absolving themselves of any responsibility.
And yet, Mr. Walker is 0-3 in his last three legal actions in regard to the Arkansas Department of Education. Yes, he is a nuisance, but he is no longer the threat he once was when he actually had legal bases for his arguments.
On Thursday, April 14th, the State Board of Education, in a split vote, denied the appeals of three parents seeking School Choice transfers from the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District (JNPSD) to neighboring Cabot School District. With a School Choice transfer deadline of May 1st, the appeals were sure to be the first of many.
Those advocating for and voting to deny the appeals did so claiming they did not want to thrust the State back into federal court and (my words) into the clutches of “John Walker.” Meanwhile, members voting to deny seemed to either miss or ignore the fact that the attorney for JNPSD, Scott Richardson, while admitting the district “chose” to exempt, claimed “School Choice” transfers were controlled by “Legal Transfer” limitations in the Desegregation Settlement Agreement, even though the Agreement itself clearly delineates the transfers’ differences.
Mr. Richardson was on Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s staff when the Desegregation Settlement Agreement was crafted, negotiated and approved. So he, Mr. McDaniel and their new law firm are fully aware of the distinction between “Legal Transfers” (application below) and “School Choice” transfers.
The 2014 Desegregation Settlement Agreement is the only federal court order cited by the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) in its decision to exempt from Act 560, the School Choice Act of 2015. Therefore, that is the only only reference the new Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District (JNPSD) may use in its choice to exempt. Inexplicably, it cites Plan 2000, from which it and its precedent PCSSD have been released in regard to Student Assignment (see below).
So, here’s all that six-page Settlement and accompanying three-page order from Federal Judge D. Price Marshall, Jr. says about transfers:
“F. School District Obligations
3. In addition to the students assigned to Magnet and M to M programs as of the Effective Date of the Agreement, the Districts agree to allow a certain number of legal transfers between the Districts for five consecutive years, beginning in 2014-15, as follows. PCSSD agrees to approve the legal transfers of up to 30 students per year to NLRSD and 30 students per year to LRSD for each of the five years. Siblings of transferred students will be given first priority. If necessary to accommodate siblings of transferred students in excess of the 30 transfers per year limit shall be deducted from the next year’s 30 student transfer limit for that District. In no event shall the number of legal transfers from PCSSD exceed 150 students for NLRSD and 150 students for LRSD during the five year period. During this period, PCSSD may consider but is not required to approval legal transfers from NLRSD or LRSD. NLRSD and LRSD agree to approve legal transfers of up to 30 students per year each to the other for each of the five years with the same exception for sibling transfers outlined above. During the five year period, the Districts agree to abide by the terms of Act 1227 of 2013, the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2013, including the exemption provision contained in Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-1906(a) and (b). For students transferred under this provision, the Districts further agree to waive the transfer review at the end of four years, referenced in Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-316(g), and allow the students who have transferred pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-316 to remain in the District to which they have transferred for the remainder of their kindergarten through twelfth grade education if the students so choose. The State and the Districts agree that the transfers allowed in this paragraph will not negatively affect the racial balance of the Districts as referenced in Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-317. If necessary, ADE will provide a waiver of prohibition.
Judge Marshall’s accompany order, filed August 21, 2014, stated:
“6. …the Court dismissed PCSSD from, and releases PCSSD regarding, the following sections of Plan 2000:
- Section C – Student Assignment…”
“The Court remains available, as may be necessary, to adjudicate any disputes that might arise under the Joshua/PCSSD stipulation as explained in Sections 2, 3, and 4 of No 4940.”
Points/Questions for Those Choosing School Choice Exemption or Denying Parent Appeals
- John Walker will do what he does. His specific or implied threats of legal action should not deter those in authority from acting, within the law, in the best interests of students and families. Judge Marshall was specific in his order that the “Court remains available, as may be necessary, to adjudicate any disputes that might arise under the Joshua/PCSSD stipulation…” In regard to appeals, the State Board of Education should put the burden of proof squarely on the districts, not the families.
- “Legal Transfers” are not “School Choice” transfers, as each are prescribed by different statutes. Therefore, the latter is not limited by the former.
- “Legal Transfer” limits were not contemplated for JNPSD, but only between PCSSD, North Little Rock School District (NLRSD) and Little Rock School District (LRSD), therefore there is no limit to “Legal Transfers” between PCSSD and JNPSD.
- “Legal Transfers” are not limited to districts outside of Pulaski County (e.g. Cabot).
- PCSSD, and by extension JNPSD, have been declared unitary in regard to student assignment.
- “During the five year period, the Districts agree to abide by the terms of Act 1227 of 2013, the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2013, including the exemption provision contained in Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-1906(a) and (b).” NLRSD and LRSD are under the same Desegregation Settlement Agreement, and yet NLRSD has always participated in School Choice, while LRSD has participated the past three years.
- If PCSSD wants to abide by the “exemption provision contained in Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-1906(a) and (b),” it is in violation, as it is required to declare exemption by April 1st if it intends to exempt for the following school year. PCSSD’s last notification was April 20, 2015.
- For three years, the superintendent and attorneys for PCSSD could have asked Judge Marshall if the district is precluded from participating in School Choice. We believe they haven’t because they don’t want to participate, and therefore, are afraid of his answer. Why do we believe this?
- Six of the nine districts exempting from School Choice in Arkansas, including PCSSD, are represented by the same law firm, Allen P. Roberts, P.A. of Camden. Camden-Fairview School District also exempts.
- Two of the nine exempting districts (PCSSD, Camden-Fairview; three if you count JNPSD) have been led by the same superintendent, Dr. Jerry Guess, formerly of Camden.
- How many “Legal Transfers” did PCSSD approve to NLRSD in 2014-15?
- How many “Legal Transfers” did PCSSD approve to NLRSD in 2015-16?
- How many “Legal Transfers” has PCSSD approved to NLRSD for 2016-17?
- How many “Legal Transfers” did PCSSD approve to LRSD in 2014-15?
- How many “Legal Transfers” did PCSSD approve to LRSD in 2015-16?
- How many “Legal Transfers” has PCSSD approved to LRSD for 2016-17?
- How many “Legal Transfers” did PCSSD accept from NLRSD in 2014-15?
- How many “Legal Transfers” did PCSSD accept from NLRSD in 2015-16?
- How many “Legal Transfers” has PCSSD accepted from NLRSD for 2016-17?
- How many “Legal Transfers” did PCSSD accept from LRSD in 2014-15?
- How many “Legal Transfers” did PCSSD accept from LRSD in 2015-16?
- How many “Legal Transfers” has PCSSD accepted from LRSD for 2016-17?
- How many employees’ student transfers did PCSSD accept from NLRSD in 2014-15?
- How many employees’ student transfers did PCSSD accept from NLRSD in 2015-16?
- How many employees’ student transfers did PCSSD accept from NLRSD in 2016-17?
- How many employees’ student transfers did PCSSD accept from LRSD in 2014-15?
- How many employees’ student transfers did PCSSD accept from LRSD in 2015-16?
- How many employees’ student transfers did PCSSD accept from LRSD in 2016-17?
Last year’s Attorney General’s opinion said parents whose appeals are denied may seek relief in a court of competent jurisdiction. Over the past three years, the State Board of Education has had innumerable opportunities, outside of the emotion of School Choice appeals, to remove that burden of time and financial hardship from parents, and place responsibility squarely on the districts to seek judicial clarity on their choices.
But that presupposes that some members of the board aren’t just as opposed to School Choice as the State’s appointed superintendent.
Instead of constantly trotting out “John Walker” as “Boo Radley” to get their way and give cover for their decidedly anti-student positions, Dr. Guess and the board of the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District, not their attorneys, should stand up and tell their constituents and the State Board exactly why they don’t believe every student deserves the right to choose the public school which best suits their needs.
Hope remains for PCSSD, JNPSD and other exempting districts’ parents as they bring future denial appeals before the State Board. Also, 100% of the students assigned to Academic Distress JNPSD Middle School and PCSSD Mills High School are eligible for Opportunity School Choice transfer to their non-Academic Distress school of choice by 7/30. And unlike Inter-district School Choice, those transfers will cost the resident districts up to $400 per student in transportation assistance. The same goes for 100% of the students in Academic Distress Dollarway, which like PCSSD, also exempts while under State control.
Instead of “John Walker” or “Lake View” or whatever “Boo Radley” they come up with next, the State better start worrying about the thousands of challenges looming by parents denied choice, particularly in districts under its control.