This from The Courier-Journal:
There will be no ruling today in the Jefferson County Public Schools lawsuit to determine whether parents have a guaranteed right to send their children to the school closest to their home.
The Kentucky Supreme Court didn’t include the lawsuit among its batch of opinions released at 10 a.m. The next ruling date is set for Sept. 20.
Several parents have filed suit against the JCPS student-assignment plan after they said their children were denied admittance into their neighborhood school.
The Kentucky appeals court has already sided with the parents, and if the Kentucky Supreme Court concurs, it could mean the end of JCPS’ desegregation plan, which includes busing kids to keep classrooms integrated.
At issue is a state law that says "within the appropriate school district attendance area, parents or legal guardians shall be permitted to enroll their children in the public school nearest their home." The parents suing the district contend that the term “enroll” also means their children have the right to attend the closest neighborhood school.
But Byron Leet, an attorney for the district, has argued that the legislature removed the word "attend" from the statute in 1990 to ensure that districts were allowed to make assignment decisions — not, as Gordon has contended, to clean up redundant language.
There is no legislative record detailing the intent of the change.
But attorneys for both sides have agreed that the original law was passed in the 1970s as an attempt to thwart federal desegregation in Jefferson County. It was ruled unconstitutional while a decree was in place, but that decree was lifted in 2000.
After the suit was brought in 2010, Jefferson Circuit Judge Irv Maze dismissed it, ruling that state law allows children to register with the district at the nearest school but doesn't guarantee that they can attend it. Maze said state law clearly reserves for school boards the right to "determine what schools the students within the district attend."
But a 2-1 appellate court decision last year overturned Maze's decision, holding that the law does entitle the student to attend that school. The ruling — which came after harsh questioning of the district, during which one judge derided voluntary integration as a failed "social experiment" — also ordered the district to develop a new assignment system for the 2012-13 school year.
When the case was argued before the state’s highest court in April, the district argued that a right to attend the nearest school would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement, with Leet saying that “because of where buildings are and populations aren't, everyone can't attend the closest school."The Jefferson County Teachers Association, the League of Women Voters, the Kentucky School Boards Association, Fayette County Schools and a handful of parents all joined amicus briefs on behalf of the school system,.
They argued that giving parents a right to attend the closest school would put unreasonable burdens on districts. They said elected school boards should be able to make assignment decisions.
And some groups like the NAACP of Louisville argued that because local housing patterns remain economically and racially segregated in many areas, such a ruling would resegregate schools.
The impending high court decision marks the latest skirmish in a long-running battle over student assignment that dates back for decades.
The school board has been making changes and adjustments to its student assignment plan since 2007, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the district's decades-old desegregation policy, saying it relied too heavily on individual students' race when assigning them to schools.
The board adopted a new plan in 2008 that looked at race, income and education levels of students' neighborhoods when assigning children to schools. But it has spent the past four years making changes to that plan after hearing numerous complaints from parents over long bus rides and the lack of access to neighborhood schools.
Student assignment has become an increasingly polarizing issue, as well as a political one. Several state politicians have incorporated into their campaigns, including last year's Republican gubernatorial candidate, Sen. David Williams.
A new version of the district's student assignment plan takes effect in elementary schools this fall. The new system classifies the district's 570 census areas using three categories based on income, minority population and average adult education.
Earlier this year, the board changed the plan again, voting to shake up the elementary clusters to further reduce the time students spend on buses. The latest change raises the number of elementary clusters for the 2013-14 school year from six to 13, but it also curtails the number of schools parents can choose from — from roughly 14 schools per cluster to six each.
Some desegregation advocates fear that could undermine the district's integration efforts, particularly in western Louisville, by giving minority and low-income families fewer school choices.