One by one, Normandy transfer students wanting back into Francis Howell schools went before a St. Louis County judge last month for the court order needed to let them back in class.
Now, the Francis Howell School District anticipates it will have no choice but to allow up to 350 or so transfer students to return. In a letter to parents Wednesday, Superintendent Pam Sloan said even with the option, many of the transfer students may not come back.
“We do not know how many of the eligible students will have an interest in returning,” Sloan wrote. “As always, our school district will comply with all court orders and laws.”
An attorney representing Normandy parents and students who want to transfer says if that’s the case, he’ll continue to file on behalf of the families. Joshua Schindler said Francis Howell’s approach is resulting in lost class time for children who would like to be back at their new schools.
On Aug. 15, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Michael Burton ruled that Normandy and other area school districts must continue to comply with the controversial state law that allows children to leave unaccredited school districts for higher performing ones. The lawsuit brought by Normandy transfer parents also involved Francis Howell, Pattonville and Ritenour.
Burton’s ruling invalidated actions taken by the Missouri Board of Education over the summer to relieve Normandy from having to comply with the transfer law. After the state board moved to restart the district as a new entity with no accreditation classification, school boards across the region were left with the decision of whether to allow Normandy transfer students back into their classrooms this year or not.
Francis Howell was the first to say no to the transfer students. After Burton’s ruling and other filings, school boards in Pattonville, Ritenour and Ferguson-Florissant reversed their decisions and now enroll Normandy students in their schools.
Only Francis Howell requires a court order for each student wanting to re-enroll.
On Friday, Schindler plans to go to court again. So far, 17 Normandy transfer students have been re-enrolled in Francis Howell. Schindler intends to ask for orders to allow an additional 35 or more students back in its classrooms. The district ended the year with about 430 students from Normandy.
“The bottom line is, I’m not stopping,” Schindler said. “I’m not going to stop until every kid is who wants to be back in Francis Howell is back in Francis Howell.”
Paying his legal services is the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri, a school-choice organization financed by investment banker Rex Sinquefield. Francis Howell’s attorney fees related to these cases total $17,000 so far and are covered by the district’s insurance, said Jennifer Henry, spokeswoman for Francis Howell.
Like the other districts involved, Francis Howell says it will charge its full tuition rate, which was $11,034 last year. Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro had previously asked districts to charge a lower amount of about $7,200.
The transfer law was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court in June 2013. Collectively, about 2,200 students left the Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts.
The resulting $1.3 million in monthly expenses to Normandy resulted in budgetary bleeding that almost brought the district to bankruptcy. About 3,700 children are enrolled in Normandy schools this year, district officials have said.
Francis Howell officials said they continue to believe that the transfer situation depletes the resources for the larger student population who remain in Normandy.
“The Normandy school district needs all of their resources to continue to function,” said Henry.
The Missouri education department, overseeing Normandy this year, isn’t certain at this point what the tuition tab will be for transfer students. Much will depend on how many students ultimately return to Francis Howell, and whether area school boards take voluntary action to reduce the amount Normandy must pay each month in per-student tuition.
If districts continue to charge the amount for tuition as outlined in the transfer law, Normandy will face “significant cash flow problems in October,” Nicastro said last week.
About 230 Normandy students are exercising transfer rights this year – about a quarter of the number who transferred last year.
“We do expect the numbers to keep climbing,” said Sarah Potter, spokeswoman for the state education department.