Alliance postpones plans to file suit against Mehlville, Kirkwood

Mehlville has not agreed to accept additional transfer students, Knost says

By Gloria Lloyd

The Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri has postponed its plan to file suit against the Mehlville and Kirkwood school districts over the transfer student lottery — for now.

The Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri, or CEAM, is a nonprofit organization that advocates for educational reform. In a statement released on the group’s website, the organization said it will postpone filing an announced lawsuit against the Mehlville School District and Kirkwood School District, both of which were chosen to receive transfer students by the unaccredited Riverview Gardens School District but said they have limited spaces to accept students.

“Some reports in the media are suggesting Mehlville has agreed to take the remaining number of transfer students who need transportation. This is not accurate,” Superintendent Eric Knost said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon. “Instead, we have mutually agreed to continue talks with all districts involved to formulate resolutions.”

In a statement posted on its website Thursday, CEAM said representatives of the organization talked to officials from both districts “late into the night” and are hopeful that a resolution and space for the students who want to leave Riverview Gardens can be reached.

“While negotiations are still underway and a spot in Mehlville or Kirkwood has not been identified for all of the Riverview Gardens students who requested a transfer with transportation prior to the Aug. 1 deadline, we believe that school officials are working in good faith to find a resolution and the parties agree that additional time for this purpose would be fruitful,” the release stated.

“Therefore, CEAM and the disaffected parents involved have decided not to file a petition at the St. Louis County courthouse today in the hope that by the end of this week the parties involved will have identified a solution that is in the best interest of children.”

CEAM represents three parents who live in Riverview Gardens whose children did not receive an assignment to either Mehlville or Kirkwood in last weekend’s lottery conducted by the Cooperating School Districts. The parents and CEAM previously said they were going to sue by 3 p.m. today — Thursday — if the children of the parents involved did not get spaces in either school district.

Mehlville said it could accept 216 students, and Kirkwood said it could only accept 175 students, despite hundreds of additional Riverview Gardens parents filing applications to attend the transportation districts in the application process, which ended Aug. 1.

The Riverview Gardens parents are represented by the Schindler Law Firm, which hand-delivered a letter to Knost on Tuesday threatening the lawsuit and alleging that the district “impermissibly limited the number of students allowed to transfer from unaccredited school districts in the same or adjoining county in violation of (the law).”

The Mehlville Board of Education voted July 25 to establish its first-ever policy on class sizes. The policy adopts the “desirable” standards set by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, as the preferred class size in general education classrooms whenever it is reasonably attainable. The policy was proposed prior to the Riverview Gardens transportation announcement.

“Please contact my office immediately to discuss this matter, as we wish to resolve this issue amicably and without litigation,” attorney Joshua Schindler wrote to Knost.

The Mehlville board met in closed session for three hours Wednesday night. In Thursday afternoon’s statement, Knost said talking about what was discussed in the meeting would be counterproductive.

Under the June Missouri Supreme Court ruling on the Breitenfeld v. Clayton — formerly Turner v. Clayton — case, students residing in unaccredited districts may choose to attend another district in the same or adjoining counties. Furthermore, the unaccredited, or sending district, must choose at least one accredited school district where they will transport students interested in a transfer.

In its original news release announcing the potential lawsuit, CEAM included statements by two of the three parents involved in the potential legal action.

“My child is one of dozens of students who were not chosen in the lottery to attend the Mehlville School District,” April Jones said in the release. “Unless Mehlville complies with the law and agrees to accept more transfer students, my child will remain trapped in the failed, unaccredited Riverview Gardens School District.”

“The Supreme Court ruling gave us such hope,” parent Lajunta Brown said in the news release.  “But that hope was squashed when we found out our children didn’t win the lottery.  My children’s education — their futures — should not be determined by a lottery. They deserve better than that.  I am committed to seeing this lawsuit through, if necessary, because I am committed to ensuring my children receive the quality education they deserve.”

The first day of school for Riverview Gardens is Monday and the first day of school for Mehlville is Aug. 15.