School board prepares for return to court

Published 2:03 am Thursday, February 17, 2011

Contributing Writer

The Beaufort County Board of Education and its lawyer met behind closed doors Tuesday for about an hour in preparation for a March 21 court date when motions are expected to be filed in a student-suspension case the N.C. Supreme Court remanded to Beaufort County Superior Court.
Judge William R. Pittman is scheduled to hear motions in the case involving Viktoria King and Jessica Hardy, two students who filed lawsuits challenging their long-term suspensions from Southside High School after a brawl two years ago.
Lawyers for the two girls have filed motions seeking permission to amend their complaints.
Raleigh lawyer Curtis H. “Trey” Allen III, with the Tharrington Smith law firm in Raleigh, met with the board to prepare for the hearing.
He would not comment on the case after the meeting.
In December 2010, lawyers for King and Hardy asked the court to declare unconstitutional state statutes that give school principals the authority to suspend students from school for more than 10 days but less than the remainder of the school year.
Their lawyers maintain the law 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 have asked the court to find that the defendants violated King and Hardy’s constitutional right to due process when they failed to articulate any reason for depriving them of alternative educational services during their suspensions and award each student compensatory damages in excess of $10,000, among other motions.
King and Hardy were sophomores 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 told 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 provision regarding the right to a public education.
The case garnered attention of children’s advocates, school boards and education associations who said it could have implications for education across the country.
In October 2010, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that although the N.C. Constitution guarantees children an opportunity for a basic education, 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.