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Judge Clears More Normandy Students To Transfer Elsewhere

Stephanie Zimmerman | St. Louis Public Radio

After a hearing in St. Louis County Circuit Court Wednesday, Judge Michael Burton cleared the way for 13 more students to transfer out of the Normandy school district.

Burton had ruled last week that the Missouri state school board had acted improperly when it made changes that exempted students who live in Normandy from the benefits of Missouri’s school transfer law. As a result, he said, Normandy’s status should remain as unaccredited, and students should have the right to transfer to nearby accredited schools.

Joshua Schindler, the lawyer who has represented the plaintiffs in the case, said after Wednesday’s hearing that he plans to bring more lawsuits, either on behalf of small groups of students or perhaps as a class action. Either way, he said, Burton made it clear in his latest ruling that the transfer law should apply broadly.

“You heard the judge,” Schindler said. “He said the scales did not just tip a little bit, but the scales were heavily in favor of the plaintiffs we need to get this issue resolved.”

Eleven of the students involved want to return to Francis Howell, which had more than 400 students from Normandy in the last school year. Two more want to return to Ferguson-Florissant, where the opening day of school has been repeatedly delayed because of the unrest in Ferguson following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

Reacting to the latest decision, Francis Howell released this statement from Superintendent Pam Sloan:

“FHSD continues to believe that students are best educated in their neighborhood schools. Sending some students and much needed financial resources to other school districts does not help educate the greater student population. The unaccredited school district needs all of its resources to help turn it around; nonetheless, FHSD will continue to comply with the law and court rulings.”

The state board met in closed session via telephone Wednesday afternoon and afterward released this statement:

"The State Board of Education was briefed on pending litigation around the preliminary court ruling on Normandy student transfers at its closed meeting today. The State Board of Education took no action. The Department and the Board will continue to follow the direction of the court. In creating the Normandy Schools Collaborative, the State Board and Department are working to create high quality schools for children and families in Normandy. The current plan reflects the only feasible way to make significant improvements and stabilize district finances. It is clear that Normandy cannot continue transfers as it did last year and remain fiscally solvent."

Schindler said he hopes that eventually, Francis Howell will join other districts, like Pattonville and Ritenour, which had initially said they would not accept any Normandy transfers this year but changed their mind after last week’s ruling.

“It is our sincere hope that Francis Howell would do what the rest of the districts have done and understand the court’s ruling.”

He added: “I want these kids in school tomorrow. So we are moving as quickly as possible. I think it is fundamentally unfair. A lot of these parents work. They’re making them jump through a lot of hoops.”

Adele Ewing, who got involved in the suit on behalf of her grandchildren who attended Ferguson-Florissant last year, observed the hearing and expressed her pleasure with the verdict after Burton’s ruling.

“I feel real good about it,” she said. “I’m much calmer than I was. I was real nervous about it, every day they had to get up and go to school. I’d pray all the time that they were okay.”

She said that her grandchildren Dakota Hooper, in second grade, and Kayla Hooper, in sixth, faced many difficulties at Jefferson School in Normandy. She said they were the only white students at the school.

“There were a lot of problems,” she said. “My granddaughter was beat up a few times. She was actually stabbed with a needle one time. She was always called names. There was a lot of prejudice going on.”

So far this school year, she said, they have attended Normandy because they seemed to have no choice, but she is ready for them to return to Ferguson-Florissant as soon as that district begins classes.

“They totally excelled there,” Ewing said of their experience last year. “It was awesome. They got along with everybody. It was so nice. There were no problems whatsoever. It was just truly awesome for them.”

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.