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Judge finds for parents in Richmond-Davis dispute

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013 11:10 p.m. CST

ST. CHARLES – A judge who ruled in favor of parents in the Richmond-Davis legal battle, ordered St. Charles School District 303 to take corrective action in developing a revised School Improvement Plan and Corrective Action Plan for children in the Davis-Richmond school buildings within six months.

Kane County Judge David Akemann also ordered the district to include choice and supplemental education services in accordance with No Child Left Behind. He set a status hearing on the case for Sept. 11.

Akemann issued his ruling late last week after a trial that ended last month. 

Board president Steve Spurling said the main thing was the judge did not order the district to put the schools back the way they were.

“I guess for right now, that is a good thing,” Spurling said. “Certainly, we will direct the administration to do what [the] judge said.”

As to whether the district would appeal, Spurling said it would be up to the board.

Superintendent Don Schlomann said he was traveling and could not comment because he had not been able to read the decision, and also because of the upcoming court date.

“It would be premature for me to comment on any of this stuff until it is completed with the judge,” Schlomann said.

In 2011, 17 parents sued, alleging that District 303 acted illegally and in contradiction of Illinois School Code regulations to have Davis become a K-2 school and Richmond, a school for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. The number of plaintiffs was reduced to two during the course of the case.

Timothy Dwyer, the attorney for the parents, said district officials never looked at the root of the problem – getting extra help for a significant population of Hispanic students at Richmond, who were either first generation or immigrants.

Instead, Dwyer said the district created the two-school plan to get around having to address Richmond’s lack of academic progress. 

“The judge saw right through that,” Dwyer said.

In his 22-page opinion and order, Akemann disagreed with the district’s position that its 2011 plan to separate the schools was a School Improvement Plan or Corrective Action Plan. 

Because Richmond failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards four years in a row, the district was obligated to come up with a plan to address it.

That was the 2011 Plan to combine the schools and change the grade centers, according to Akemann’s decision.

“District personnel repeatedly denied that resolving the Richmond issue was a factor of the 2011 Plan,” Akemann wrote. “The court does not find this testimony to be credible.”

The judge found that the district was legally obligated to assist struggling students when it combined two schools into one school with two campuses.

The district argued that it “substantially” complied with No Child Left Behind … except that the district “didn’t fill out the paperwork.”

Akemann noted that he found no court that accepted that explanation to relieve a district from its responsibility.

“The corrective action plan is … not for a facility but for groups and sub-groups of students,” according to Akemann’s decision. “Taking a group of students and moving them to another building does not remove the [No Child Left Behind] mandates.”

Board member Ed McNally was critical of Schlomann’s leadership in this issue. He estimated that fighting the parents on the lawsuit cost the district at least $225,000.

“It is a reflection on Schlomann – he was the one who walked us into disaster,” McNally said. “This is a reflection of his leadership. ... And frankly, when you look at the scores that came out of Richmond-Davis for 2013, the gap has widened between Richmond-Davis and the rest of the district. ... We are performing less well. That shows this plan was an abject failure.”

Spurling said McNally was entitled to his opinion of Schlomann, but he did not agree with it.

“His opinion is [as] just one board member,” Spurling said. “I have not heard from other board members nor anyone from the public. I do not find leadership at fault here.”

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