The attorney for parents fighting the Salt Lake City Board of Education's controversial high school boundary decision argued in federal court Friday that the board's action exceeded its authority and arbitrarily denied parents the right to make reasonable choices about their children's education.
Attorneys for the school board, on the other hand, countered that the board violated no state or federal law, acted fully within its legislative mandate and came to its decision only after months of careful deliberations.The attorney for the plaintiffs, Parker M. Nielson, asked U.S. District Judge David K. Winder to remand the decision to the school board so the board can come up with a more appropriate plan.
After closing South High School, the board developed an "equity" plan to redistribute students among the remaining three high schools. The plan set boundaries to achieve three equal high schools by using a balance of academic achievement, enrollment numbers, ethnic populations and academic offerings.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that the equity plan is an unconstitutional "partisan" test.
School board attorneys John E.S. Robson and David Payne have filed a motion for dismissal of the lawsuit, saying "the plaintiffs' claims are not well-taken."
After listening to the attorneys for 90 minutes, Winder took the case under advisement. He gave no indication of when he will rule.
Filed March 4 in 3rd District Court, the lawsuit later was moved to federal court and assigned to Chief Judge Bruce Jenkins. He excused himself.
The plaintiffs originally sought an injunction to prevent the school board from implementing its boundary plan. After Friday's hearing, Nielson said the injunction had been put on hold and in its place the plaintiffs are asking the school board to come up with a different plan based on whatever Winder rules.
Only five plaintiffs - Maria Espinal, Donnie James, G. Harvey Hamilton, Joyce Campbell and Terry Hoecherl - are listed in the lawsuit, but the plaintiffs have said all along that it is a class-action suit representing thousands of affected parents and children in the Salt Lake School District. The real force behind the lawsuit is Citizens for Better Schools, a fund-raising group that was formed after the boundary decision.
Nielson said the lawsuit was not "an East High School" lawsuit. He pointed out the plaintiffs live in different parts of the city and then proceeded to list their assigned schools and where they wanted to go.
"Mr. Nielson," the judge said. "if any of these maps (boundary) had been adopted, you'd have dissatisfied people."
The attorney responded that open enrollment, in which parents and their children select the schools of their choice, would not cause dissatisfaction.
Winder asked Nielson what kind of blueprint for the schools he expected from the court if the judge ruled in his favor.
"We're not asking the court to run the schools," Nielson said. He said the plaintiffs want the court to remand the decision back to the school board for a more appropriate decision.
Nielson said the plaintiffs are asking for "a declaration that parents have certain rights."
He said he agreed with the defendants that the Legislature gave school boards broad discretion so they can limit enrollment based on such things as money or facilities but "not that they run roughshod over the reasonable choices of parents in the education of their children."
"No state law grants (the board) power to rearrange (students) around the city to fit its own notion of what racial balance should be," Nielson said.