Appeals court judges grill JCPS attorneys on student assignment

Judge Kelly Thompson
Judge Kelly Thompson
J. Bruce Miller
J. Bruce Miller
Judge Michael Caperton
Judge Michael Caperton
Byron Leet
Byron Leet

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - "A social experiment" is what an appeals court judge called Jefferson County Public Schools' student assignment plan Wednesday.

"Has this helped your educational achievement?" asked Judge Kelly Thompson in grilling JCPS' attorney. "Have your test scores gone up or have they gone down in the last few years?"

Lawyers for the school district and a group of parents went before the Court of Appeals Wednesday. The parents are appealing a lower court ruling in which Jefferson Circuit Judge Irv Maze said that a Kentucky law may give them a right to enroll their kids in neighborhood schools but it doesn't give them the right to attend.

"When I enrolled in Vanderbilt University undergraduate school in 1962, I attended Vanderbilt," said Louisville attorney J. Bruce Miller. "I didn't enroll there to go to Peabody across the street."

Miller says a group of Jefferson public schools parents have it right, that state law gives their kids the right to enroll and attend the school closest to home.

"We have a school board who has ignored the law of Kentucky as it was designed," Miller said.

Right away, it became pretty clear most, if not all, of the judges on the panel agreed. Their questions suggest they think JCPS has it wrong and that neighborhood schools, not busing, is the way to go.

"What is the compelling state interest that would justify such an extreme measure to put children on a bus long enough for us to go to Indianapolis every day?" Thompson asked.

"I've not heard a reason so far as to why we want to bus them around the county and how that helps the general education and welfare and the health of the students," said Judge Michael Caperton.

The school system's attorney says the student assignment plan is based on reams of research.

"The three factors that this district considers in student assignment very often contribute to educational achievement," said board attorney Byron Leet.

But Thompson fired back, "How has that worked out? How has the test scores in this county gone up during this social experiment or have they gone down?"

"That was a pretty good grilling," Leet said afterward.

Leet said he hopes he answered the judges' questions well and wouldn't say their pointed questions mean the ruling will go against the board.

"I've been at this a little while and I think it is perilous business to try to predict what judges are going to do in a particular case," he said.

The parents' attorney believes the appeals court is seeing things their way.

"The reason why this was, in my opinion, so dramatic today is common sense all of a sudden became the password," Miller said. "This doesn't make sense," he added of the assignment plan.

The appeals court can take all the time it needs to rule on the case but don't expect this legal fight to be over any time soon. Once the judges rule, either side can ask the Kentucky Supreme Court to take the case.

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