County school districts: No student transfers allowed this fall

Thursday, June 21, 2012

BERRYVILLE -- As of today, Carroll County students this fall will have to attend the school district within whose boundaries they reside, officials say, and transfers to other districts will no longer be allowed.

Since federal Judge Robert T. Dawson earlier this month struck down the 1989 Arkansas law that allowed students to transfer outside of their home school districts, Green Forest, Berryville and Eureka Springs school districts are in a "wait-and-see" mode.

However, officials at each of the county's school districts say they will abide by the new ruling that declared the law unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. This means that, at least for now, student transfers will not be allowed this coming school year.

"We are getting multiple sets of input -- from the Arkansas Department of Eduction, the School Board Association and the Attorney General -- and we are proceeding as we are required to do," explained Berryville Superintendent Randy Byrd. "Parents can come in and fill out the proper paperwork for the School Choice transfer to have it ready."

But as of now, they say, their hands are tied on this issue, and transfers under the Arkansas Public School Choice Act won't be allowed.

"We currently have about 15 outgoing requests," Green Forest Interim Superintendent Andrea Martin said.

Eureka Springs Superintendent Curtis Turner says that his district has received some transfer requests.

"We've had some School Choice applications prior to the ruling, but we can't act on those now," Turner said. "Our attorneys told us not take any action. They told us to sit tight. We have to respect the ruling, so we have to have a wait-and-see attitude toward this. This has far-reaching effects. We want students here, but with the ruling, it's like the law never existed."

Turner added that Eureka Springs, like Berryville and Green Forest, are taking applications, but there is no promise that those will ever be acted upon.

"That's where we're at now," he said.

On Tuesday, the Legal Services Division of the Arkansas Department of Education sent a memo to all Arkansas public schools regarding the federal court's ruling.

The memo states: "Parties to the case have filed motions for stay and notices of appeal. However, unless a stay is granted or unless an appellate court reverses the district court ruling, there is no legal authority to grant School Choice transfers.

"In addition to requesting a stay of the district court's order, the State of Arkansas requested an order from the federal district court about whether the court's ruling should apply only to School Choice transfers granted after June 8, 2012, or whether the court's ruling should also apply to students who were granted School Choice transfers before June 8, 2012. The Arkansas Department of Education will publish a Commissioner's Memo when and if the district court offers such clarification."

In the meantime, other provisions of Arkansas law that allow student transfers across district lines remain in place and are not affected by the district court's ruling. School districts may continue to approve transfers of students under statutory provisions such as: legal transfers approved by resident and non-resident districts; school choice under the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act; children of school employees; and the Opportunity School Choice.

"As far as the Arkansas Public School Choice Act goes, I'm for it for people typically in this category," said state Rep. Bryan King, R-Berryville. "I think that everybody should be able to educate their kids in the best way they feel possible."

King said he was looking forward to talking to county residents about this issue, but he is not anticipating a possible special legislative session to resolve it.

State Sen. Randy Laverty explained in his weekly column, which appeared in Tuesday's Midweek edition of the Carroll County News and can be viewed online at www.carrollconews.com, that more than 13,000 students in the state are attending school districts in which their families do not live, and that more than 15,000 students and their families could be affected by the ruling.

"If the ruling forces them to return to their home districts, it will create budgetary and staffing problems for the schools," Laverty wrote. "The schools that lose them may have to lay off teachers, while the schools that get them could have to increase class sizes or hire teachers at the 11th hour."

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