The Salt Lake Board of Education overstepped its state-given authority when it set new high school boundaries, trampling on a parent's right to make reasonable choices about his child's education, an attorney argued in a 3rd District Court hearing Monday morning.
The board's actions were fully within its legal limits, and those unhappy with the decision should find recourse in the elections, not the courts, countered school board attorney E.S. Robson. "The plaintiffs' remedy is in the voting booth tomorrow."Attorneys argued before 3rd District Judge Scott Daniels in the lawsuit brought by five Salt Lake School District parents against the school board. Daniels said he will rule by Dec. 1.
Filed last March, the case was first bounced from district court to federal court to decide federal claims. In July, U.S. District Judge David K. Winder ruled that the school board did not discriminate when it established new boundaries and, furthermore, may have prevented a federal lawsuit by doing so.
Winder dismissed the federal claims with prejudice, meaning they cannot be refiled, and sent the lawsuit back to district court to settle the plaintiffs' claim that the board was "arbitrary and capricious," abusing its state-given authority to manage the schools.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Parker M. Nielson, told Daniels that the lawsuit has been misunderstood by the public and the media. He said the lawsuit is not about which school is the best or east-side property values declining because homes were switched to another high school attendance area.
He also called Winder's decision inappropriate, saying the lawsuit's issues do not focus on integration. The Salt Lake City schools have always been fully integrated, Nielson said.
"The issue is plainly and simply one of parental choice," he argued.
Nielson contended schoolchildren, under Utah law, have the right to attend a neighborhood school that is convenient for whatever reason the parent deems appropriate.
The attorney claimed that the school board's criteria in setting up three comparable high schools amounted to social engineering.
Outlining the extensive work by citizen groups that led to the boundary decision, school board attorney Robson said that just as Winder ruled the school board hadn't violated federal law, the board did not go beyond Utah law in its decision.
"There is no fundamental right to attend a particular school or for open enrollment under Utah law," Robson told the judge.
The assignment of particular schools is necessary for the "harmonious development and growth of all schoolchildren," which could be harmed if individuals could change schools by their own volition, Robson said.
Robson argued that the school board was within its right because the law says school boards have the authority to "do all things necessary for the maintenance, prosperity and success of the schools and the promotion of education."