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Published in Print: November 3, 1999, as K.C. Wants Court To Block Deaccreditation

K.C. Wants Court To Block Deaccreditation

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The Kansas City, Mo., school district asked a federal judge last week to void a vote by the state board of education to strip the system of its state accreditation. Loss of accreditation, the district argued, would impede court-ordered efforts to desegregate the city's schools and promote local control.

The motion was filed only four days after the state board's unanimous Oct. 21 decision to drop Kansas City's accreditation as of May 1 of next year. The board's decision was supported by Missouri Commissioner of Education Robert E. Bartman.

Jim Morris, a spokesman for the state education department, said the board's vote came after the 37,000-student district failed to meet any of the state's 11 performance standards.

"Our hope is that instead of bailing out, the community will rally to the schools, and that this will provide the motivation they need to find solutions and to get focused on student performance," Mr. Morris said. The district met only four of what was then six performance standards during its last assessment six years ago and was put on probationary status, he added.

When any of Missouri's 524 districts proves unable to meet strict requirements for student performance, governance, and financial and physical resources, it can lose state accreditation and become subject to a state takeover if it fails to make marked improvements within two years. If that occurs, students would be allowed to enroll in surrounding school districts with tuition and transportation paid for by the deaccredited district. No district has lost accreditation in the nine years the system has been in place.

U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple was expected to consider the district's motion Nov. 1, said Brooks Richardson, a law clerk for the judge. No deadline has been set for the judge's decision.

Impact on Achievement

The same day the state board voted on Kansas City, board members also considered ordering the same sanction for the 46,000-student St. Louis school district. But the board opted to table the issue because of a federal court order barring any intervention by the state in St. Louis until the district has met the terms of a long-standing desegregation order, Mr. Morris said.

Both Kansas City and St. Louis have been embroiled for years in desegregation cases. The state, which had been ordered by the federal courts to pay millions to help desegregate the two school systems, was released from its financial responsibility in the cases in recent years. ("Judge Decides State Funds for Desegregation To End in K.C.," April 2, 1997.)

In last month's board decision, it was Kansas City Superintendent Benjamin Demps who pushed for the May 1 deaccreditation date. He argued that dropping accreditation during the current school year, as originally suggested, would have been disruptive by prompting students and teachers to leave the district.

"The interesting thing about all of this is that the orders of the court appear to be the same as the state board of education goals," Mr. Demps said in an interview. "My task is to implement all that into the curriculum."

Mr. Demps' arguments against the immediate implementation of deaccreditation mirror those listed in the six-page motion the district filed Oct. 25. The document contends that the withdrawal of state accreditation would pose a direct conflict to court orders to desegregate the Kansas City schools.

Deaccreditation would "prevent the [school district] from maintaining racial balance, due to the likely loss of disproportionate numbers of white students from within [the district] to charter schools and other districts," the district's motion states. The move would also inhibit the district's ability to remain financially self-sufficient, since funding would follow students who left to attend other schools, the document adds.

"The court ordered us to focus all of our energy on particular issues related to student achievement," said Mark Thornhill, a lawyer for the district. "We think the state board's action will divert the district's attention from achievement."

The district is also asking that Judge Whipple--who serves on the U.S. District Court in Kansas City--mandate that the state be held accountable for implementing Kansas City's desegregation plan until the "court's remedies have been achieved and the court had declared that [the district] has achieved unitary status," the motion says.

Vol. 19, Issue 10, Page 3

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