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Friday, August 26, 2011

Courier Journal Editorial Criticizes JCPS Student Assignment Court Hearing. So Why Am I Not Surprised? WINK.

JCPS student assignment hearing off point

The Kentucky Court of Appeals hearing Wednesday on the legality of the Jefferson County Public Schools student assignment plan was a deplorable display of inappropriate judicial conduct.

Presiding Judge Kelly Thompson urged the district to drop its voluntary diversity plan as a failed “social experiment” and said the county needs to return to neighborhood schools.

Say what? First of all, that’s an insultingly dismissive description of an intensive — and court-ordered — effort of more than 35 years to provide equal educational opportunity to all of the county’s children, a process that has left public education countywide incomparably stronger than it was in the mid-1970s.

But the bigger point here is: Who cares what Judge Thompson thinks? His role isn’t to decide whether Jefferson County is doing the right thing or the wrong thing, or whether busing for diversity has worked or not worked. That’s the responsibility of the elected Jefferson County Board of Education. Judge Thompson’s job, and that of the court, is to make the narrow judgment of whether the student assignment plan conforms to state law.

And then there was Judge Michael Caperton, who questioned the wisdom of sending students from areas noted for low academic achievement across the city to school. Just what is that supposed to mean? It’s hard to come up with any translation other than: Keep your struggling students in the low-income or minority areas where they belong.

That said, the legal issue before the court is a tough one. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that struck down JCPS’ racially based assignment plan removed the federal mandate for busing. It is plausible to argue that as a consequence, a state statute that says parents can “enroll” their children at the nearest school now gives students an absolute right to attend that school.

Our hope, however, is that the courts will decide that the broader weight of state law and practices gives each Kentucky school board the power to determine what schools students attend.

No matter how the appellate court rules, and no matter whether its decision is appealed to the state Supreme Court, this important case deserves judges focused solely on the relevant legal issues.

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