Court of Appeals affirms statewide PreK services for at-risk students

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The NC Court of Appeals affirmed the Superior Court Judge Howard Manning’s July 2011 order barring the State from limiting or denying eligible at-risk four year olds admission to the State’s prekindergarten program. The Court’s ruling reinforces State’s continuing duty to at-risk students across North Carolina, noting that “under Leandro II, the State has a duty to prepare all ‘at-risk’ students to avail themselves of an opportunity to obtain a sound basic education.”

The Center represents the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP in the matter and filed a brief in the appeal. Read the Court’s opinion and the Center’s brief (PDF). See also our April 2012 post after briefs were filed.

In its brief, the Center compared the trial court’s remedial powers in this case to those exercised by courts overseeing school desegregation cases, which can include ordering school boards to develop remedies for constitutional violations, give regular updates on progress towards eliminating the vestiges of race discrimination and secure court approval for any modifications to approved measures. The Court of Appeals ruling implicitly embraced this remedial paradigm, commenting that that the trial court’s order properly recognized the separation of powers and emphasizing that the legislative and executive branches developed the PreK program to “achieve constitutional compliance” pursuant to its duty to provide a remedy for its continuing violation of the rights to a sound basic education. Having itself presented this remedy, and repeatedly touted its success, the State could not now abandon that remedy—or its affirmative constitutional duty-- without an equally effective alternative plan. The Court held that if the State wants to modify the prekindergarten program, it could be done “by means of a motion filed with the trial court setting forth the basis for and manner of any proposed modification.”

Moreover, the Court did not limit its holding only to students in Hoke County, as urged by the State, but decided to “mandate the unrestricted acceptance of all ‘at-risk’ four year old prospective enrollees who seek to enroll in existing pre-kindergarten programs across the State,” in part because the State itself offered prekindergarten as a statewide Leandro remedy.

The Court also commented on the scope of the ongoing Leandro litigation as a whole. The opinion highlighted that previously established minimum criteria for a constitutionally sound basic education “were not static or set in stone for all time” but can evolve “to enable the student to function in a complex and rapidly changing society” and that “[w]hat is required of the State to provide a ‘sound basic education’ in the 21st century was not the same as it was in the 19th century, nor will it be the same as it will be in the 22nd century.”

Posted by Taiyyaba A. Qureshi on Tue. August 21, 2012 4:45 PM
Categories: Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Education, Leandro
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