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Judge: Richmond-Davis merger will stand, despite ruling against District 303

Published: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 3:59 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 7:00 a.m. CST

ST. CHARLES – A Kane County judge has refused to undo the decision by St. Charles School District 303 to effectively merge Richmond and Davis elementary schools.

Kane County Circuit Judge David R. Akemann issued his ruling in the matter Wednesday, rejecting a request from parents of students who formerly attended St. Charles’ Davis Elementary School to step in and redraw attendance zone boundaries within District 303.

Akemann reiterated his findings that District 303 had skirted the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act in combining the two schools.

He said the court would “require that the district perform its mandated functions” in crafting a school improvement plan for the students of Richmond-Davis Elementary School, under the guidelines of the NCLB, as he said the district should have done for the former Richmond Elementary School years earlier.

However, he said the court would not go beyond that and order Richmond-Davis to again be divided into two separate schools.

Akemann said such an order would represent “an inappropriate remedy” that would “replace the quasi-legislative authority of the district” to draw its own attendance zone boundaries for its elementary schools.

He said “boundary decisions are and remain the prerogative of the school district.”

“In other words, it is not the reconfiguration that the school district did that, considered in isolation, was contrary to the mandates of the NCLB,” Akemann wrote. “Rather, it was the district failure to provide the corrective action mandates that this court now orders, [that] ran contrary to the NCLB from which the state cannot provide a waiver.”

Akemann’s Sept. 18 order serves as a clarification of his original ruling in the case, which was issued Sept. 3.

The case had been brought in 2011 by a group of 17 parents of Davis Elementary students, who alleged that District 303 had acted contrary to the Illinois School Code when it converted Davis to a school for students in kindergarten to second grade, and Richmond into a campus for students in the third to fifth grades.

The parents argued that under the NCLB, the district should have created a school improvement plan specifically to bolster academic performance of the students at Richmond, which included a significant number of Hispanic students, rather than simply merge the student populations of the two schools. Richmond had failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards for four consecutive years, which, under the NCLB, obliged the district to craft a plan to address that performance.

The courts ruled in favor of the parents on that question, ordering District 303 to develop the required academic improvement plan within six months. The plan is to include the ability of parents with students at Richmond-Davis to send their children to other elementary schools within District 303, the judge said.

The judge said the plan “must be developed in collaboration with and the input of parents of students attending school in, and the staff serving in, the Davis and Richmond buildings.”

But when the parents then asked the court to break up the new Richmond-Davis grade center alignment, Akemann said the courts would not take that step.

District 303 Superintendent Don Schlomann said the district was pleased the judge had refrained from ordering the dissolution of the Richmond-Davis alignment. He said the decision will “allow for stability” at the schools.

Schlomann said the district intends to begin the work next week of drafting a school improvement plan to submit to the judge for review. He said the plan would specifically address academic shortcomings among the school’s two primary “subgroups,” including its Hispanic students and students from lower-income households.

He said administrators also will discuss how best to involve parents and staff in the creation of those improvement plans. Some possibilities include large group meetings, surveys or committees that included parents from the two “primary subgroups.”

Timothy Dwyer, a lawyer for the parents, said he welcomed the judge’s requirement that the new improvement plans include both choice and input from parents and staff at the schools.

“It was really important that the parents be involved in any kind of educational plan,” Dwyer said. “That was clearly something that did not happen in 2011.”

He said he had yet to discuss the decision with the parents, so he did not know if the parents might appeal.

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