Complications, controversy arise from MO Supreme Court ruling

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In a 4-3 decision this past summer, the Missouri Supreme Court has made a controversial statement regarding how the public schools in the state of Missouri are to function.

It all began when the Turners, a St. Louis family that had been sending its kids to the Clayton Schools as tuition-paying students, decided to sue for reimbursement when the St. Louis Public Schools became unaccredited. The decision for the Turners to pursue the lawsuit was based on Missouri Statute 167.131, which allows students residing in an unaccredited school to go to a school in another district.

“It’s really quite simple,” Jane Turner said. “We understood that we had a statutory right to have our children attend the Clayton Schools and not as tuition students, but under the Missouri statue, as transfer students”

Turner argues that, despite the tuition contracts that they had signed with the Clayton School District, the statute should still apply to her children.

“We really had no choice but to sign a contract,” Turner said. “If we didn’t sign a contract, then our children would have been forced to attend an unaccredited school.”

And, thus, Turner v. School District of Clayton was born.

Both parties initially decided to handle the case without going to trial, but the Supreme Court has sent the case back down to the Circuit courts so that both parties can amend their arguments.

“Details need to be worked out and I think that’s what the Supreme Court wants done at the Circuit level,” Turner said.

The  Supreme Court’s July 16 opinion may not have granted the Turners reimbursement for the tuition money that they’ve already paid, but the long-term effects of this ruling will still affect the Clayton School District.

In the Missouri Supreme Court’s non-final action, the Court declared that, if a student in an unaccredited public school transfers to an accredited school district in the same or a neighboring county, then the original school district must pay said student’s tuition.

Clayton Chief Communications Officer Chris Tennill believes that, were the Supreme Court’s decision to stand, it would have the potential to make a dramatic impact.

“I think the Supreme Court ruling has the potential to change the educational landscape in St. Louis County if it stands as ruling,” Tennill said. “But, I think the important thing to keep in mind is, while there was a ruling, it was not a final resolution of the case. The ruling just overturned a judgment of a lower court that was granted in Clayton’s favor, did not grant anything in the plaintiff’s favor, and just said to take it out in trial court and work it out there.”

Additionally, in what is the aspect of the ruling that will likely affect Clayton schools the most, the Court decision stated that the receiving accredited school districts must admit all students who wish to enroll from these unaccredited school districts.

Tennill is concerned about this aspect of the ruling and believes that, were this aspect of the ruling to stand as is, many schools in St. Louis County would be adversely affected.

“It would affect more than just Clayton,” Tennill said. “There would be a watershed of students from the city and from Riverview Gardens just descending upon all St. Louis County Schools, and we would have no ability to turn them away. So most county schools would quickly be overpopulated and understaffed to handle such a huge influx of students.”

For Turner, however, “Our concern is just with our family.”

With public schools across St. Louis County opening this week, the fates of potential transfer students in failing districts and accredited county schools subject to the ruling are still up in the air.

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