In a batch of rulings released this afternoon, the N.C. Supreme Court decided that public schoolchildren suspended from classes don’t have a constitutional right to alternative education.
The ruling came down in two major educational law cases that had been pending before the court, King v. Beaufort Court Board of Education and Harvey-Barrow v. Beaufort County. In February 2008, a series of fights had broken out in a Beaufort County high school and two high school girls were suspended for five months, the rest of the school year, without an offer of an alternative school to attend. For more background on the case, check out this previous News & Observer article.
Several educational and civil rights groups, including the N.C. Justice Center, had weighed in on the case, arguing that suspending children for long periods of time without offering them any alternative education denies their right to a “sound basic education.”
The N.C. Supreme Court didn’t agree with that in today’s 4-3 opinion, written by N.C. Justice Mark Martin, instead finding that the constitutional right to a sound education is lost when a student misbehaves. (UPDATE: The other justices joining in Martin’s majority were Chief Justice Sarah Parker and Justices Edward Brady and Robert Edmunds Jr.)
We decline plaintiff’s invitation to create a constitutional right to alternative education for students who violate lawful school rules.
The justices did offer a small consolation, however, offering a right to know why they’re suspended.
Because exclusion from alternative education potentially infringes on a student’s state constitutional right to equal educational access, school administrators must articulate a reasons when they exclude a long-term suspended student from alternative education.
Consenting in part and dissenting in part was Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson, who took sharp aim at the decision made by her colleagues. Joining her was Robin Hudson.
No school system in the State of North Carolina can deprive students of all state-funded educational opportunities, unless it is absolutely necessary. I believe the Constitution of North Carolina and precedent from this Court made this guarantee to the children of our state. Today’s decision retreats from that promise.
Going even further in dissent was Justice Paul Newby, who felt that, not only did a student lose the right to an education once they were suspended, but that the courts shouldn’t second-guess the authority of a school system by offering a route to review a suspension.
Thoughts about today’s ruling? Please share.
UPDATE: It’s important to note that today’s ruling does give an intermediate level of court scrutiny in cases of long-term suspensions. That means decisions to suspend for long periods without an offer of alternative school can be reviewed by a person outside of the school system.