Recently the North Carolina State Supreme Court agreed to hear a case on behalf of parents in Halifax County. The case, Silvers et al. v Halifax County Board of Commissioners, deals with the underfunding of the schools in the Halifax County school district.
The plaintiffs, represented by the UNC Center for Civil Rights, argue that the actions of the defendants go against a previous ruling by the court, namely the Leandro case of 1997, which decided that all students have a fundamental right to the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.” The state has not been idle on this decision; it used the Leandro ruling as the basis of the decision in King v Beaufort County Board of Education in regards to suspended children and their right to an equal education.
When asked why he took the case, Mark Dorosin, Managing Attorney of the UNCG Center for Civil Rights, said, “Under North Carolina’s state constitution, and as affirmed by the North Carolina Supreme Court in the Leandro cases, the Board of County Commissioners is required to exercise its statutory responsibilities for education in a manner that ensures the opportunity for a sound basic education to every child in Halifax County.”
Basically, the Board of County Commissioners, whose job it is to act as the legislature for the county, violated both NC State Law and the Leandro case ruling in their actions in Halifax County. If the case were to get picked up by the North Carolina Supreme Court, this would be the argument that the plaintiffs would make in their case.
When asked specifically how the actions of the Halifax County Board of Commissioners violated the Leandro ruling, Dorosin explained that, according to the ruling, every student had a right to an education, as measured by three metrics: inputs (teachers, facilities, curriculums), outputs (Standardized Test Scores, graduation and dropout rates) and resource allocations. He said that poor resource allocation has led to failures in both the input and output areas.
If the State Supreme Court takes the case, any rulings they make will set legal precedent for future cases. This is the case for any ruling by a court unless either overruled by a higher court or overturned by a later court ruling.
Dorosin specified that if the court sided with the plaintiffs on the matter, it could open up discussions about a number of other issues facing students in Halifax County, like student placement, allocation of educational resources and generally making it easier for parents and students to hold the state responsible for ensuring the the student population decent education, as defined by both the state Constitution and the Leandro ruling under the metrics he mentioned in his answer as to why the plaintiffs believe that the Halifax County school board had broken the law.
When reached for comment two other groups involved in the case, the Coalition for Education and Economic Security and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law did not respond by the deadline.
Special thanks to Mark Dorosin of the UNC Center for Civil Rights for his contributions.