Court to hear motions in King, Hardy lawsuits

Published 6:56 pm Thursday, January 13, 2011

Contributing Editor

Motions in a students-suspension case the N.C. Supreme Court remanded to Beaufort County Superior Court are scheduled to be heard Jan. 24 at the Beaufort County Courthouse.
Viktoria King and Jessica Hardy, who filed lawsuits challenging their long-term suspensions from Southside High School after a brawl two years ago, have filed motions — through their attorneys — seeking permission to further amplify their amended complaints.
In December 2010, King and Hardy’s attorneys filed documents asking the court to declare that N.C. General Statute 115C-391(c) is “unconstitutional to the extent it authorized the complete denial of educational services during a period of long-term suspension in the absence of an articulated reason that satisfies intermediate judicial scrutiny.”
King and Hardy also ask the court to do the following:
• find that the defendants (Beaufort County Board of Education and Jeff Moss, who was superintendent of Beaufort County Schools at the time King and Hardy were suspended) violated King and Hardy’s statutory right to alternative educational services during their long-term suspensions;
• find that the defendants violated King and Hardy’s constitutional right to public education when it excluded them from all public educational services during their long-term suspensions and did not have a constitutionally adequate reason for such exclusion;
• find that the defendants violated King and Hardy’s constitutional right to due process when it failed to articulate any reason for depriving them of alternative educational services during their suspensions;
• award King and Hardy each compensatory damages in the excess of $10,000;
• award attorneys’ fees;
• award additional relief as the court deems just and proper.
King and Hardy were sophomore students when a fight resulted in sheriff’s deputies handcuffing and briefly detaining about a dozen students. King and Hardy were suspended from school for the rest of the semester and informed they could not attend Beaufort County’s alternative school for troubled students.
In their original complaints, the girls’ attorneys argued that violated the state constitution’s right to a public education. In 1997, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled in a school-funding case that the North Carolina Constitution gives each child a right to a ‘‘sound basic education.’’
In October 2010, the state’s high court ruled the North Carolina Constitution guarantees children an opportunity for a basic education, but it doesn’t require alternative schooling for students suspended for bad behavior. Although local school boards are required by state law to establish at least one alternative learning program for students serving long-term suspensions, school administrators are not required to accommodate every suspended student, the court ruled.
The court also ruled school administrators must explain why they denied a suspended student any alternatives, sending the case back to lower courts for further action.
King and Hardy are represented by Jane Wettach with the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke University’s School of Law and Erwin Byrd and Lewis Pitts with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Advocates for Children’s Services.
Byrd, in a telephone interview Wednesday, said the Jan. 24 hearing is a “procedural matter” that serves as a prelude to the case being heard again in Superior Court.
“We were dismissed before any was put on by either side,” Byrd said of a ruling by Superior Court Judge William Griffin in the early stages of the case making its way through the court system.
Griffin determined the plaintiffs had “no valid legal claim,” Byrd said. His decision was upheld by the N.C. Court of Appeals, but the N.C. Supreme Court determined the plaintiffs’ complaints had merit, Byrd said.
“As soon as we heard it was headed back to Superior Court, we filed an amended complaint,” Byrd said.
Byrd said the Beaufort County Board of Education, through its attorneys, is opposing the plaintiffs’ motions to amend their complaints.
The school board’s attorneys are Curtis H. “Trey” Allen III and Robert M. Kennedy with the Tharrington Smith law firm in Raleigh. Telephone calls to the law firm were not returned before deadline for today’s edition of the Daily News.