Students file legal suit claiming right to education

Published 3:29 am Friday, February 13, 2009

By Staff
Their appeal hinges on court’s reading of state constitution
Staff Writer
Two area students and Beaufort County Schools officials are awaiting a decision by the N.C. Court of Appeals on what services, if any, the school system must provide to students it suspends.
The students’ attorney has argued the state constitution’s guarantee of a basic education for every child means the school system should have provided the students with instruction while they were suspended.
A lawyer representing the Beaufort County Schools has said the students temporarily lost their rights to an education when they were suspended.
The two girls, Victoria King and Jessica Lynch Hardy, were suspended in January 2008 after a fight at Southside High School. The case could influence suspension policies statewide.
Jane Wettach, the professor from a Duke Law School clinic representing the students, said the case is important because it could extend education rights statewide to children she believes are being unfairly denied them.
The three-judge panel reviewing the case heard arguments Wednesday. At the appeals level, most cases are reviewed based only on the written record.
School systems around the state use a variety of methods to educate suspended students, including special schools, tutors, evening classes and video conferences, Wettach said. In Beaufort County, the school system maintains the Ed Tech Center, but King and Lynch weren’t offered the option of attending that school, Wettach said.
Allen argued that a court decision favorable for the girls could render suspensions a toothless punishment for school systems.
There’s no deadline for the court to release a decision, though judges usually try to turn cases around in under three months.
The appeal taken up by the court Wednesday is one of two appeals the girls have filed against the school system. The other is an appeal of their suspensions. That case has moved through Beaufort County Superior Court and is on its way to the Court of Appeals.