CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) – A St. Louis County judge ruled against student and parent plaintiffs Tuesday in a case that could have triggered a mass exodus of students from the St. Louis City public school system – the largest school district in Missouri.
Judge David Lee Vincent ruled in Turner v. Clayton in favor of the Clayton School District.
Vincent’s ruling means students from unaccredited school districts do not have the right to transfer to better school districts for free.
The St. Louis, Kansas City and Riverview Gardens school districts are the only ones that have lost their accreditation in Missouri.
Under Missouri law, students in unaccredited districts can transfer to neighboring, accredited districts, free of charge, with tuition being paid by the student’s home district.
The school districts said the law is impractical. Neighboring districts, including Clayton, testified that a mass exodus of students from St. Louis would overcrowd classrooms and drain the district’s resources.
The St. Louis school district said that paying the tab for such an exodus could take up to 85 percent of the cash-strapped district’s budget.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys countered that the school districts’ numbers were exaggerated, and that a relatively small number of families had inquired about changing districts.
In finding for the school districts, Vincent focused on whether it was impossible to comply with the law due to the financial burden on the districts created by the transfers.
Vincent concluded that the costs violated the Hancock Amendment, which prevents the state from creating unfunded mandates.
This is the second time Vincent has heard the case. He ruled in favor of the school districts in 2008, but the Missouri Supreme Court reversed and remanded.
The Missouri attorney general’s office told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it plans to appeal the latest ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court.
The case affects 72,000 children in the St. Louis and Riverview Gardens districts, including 28,000 students in charter, private or parochial schools. It could affect children in the Kansas City school district as well, according to the Post-Dispatch.