Davis and Richmond schools in St. Charles Unit District 303 will remain grade level centers, but a lingering issue in the case may still force major changes at the schools and the district.
Judge David Akemann on Wednesday clarified the order he issued a couple of weeks ago by saying his focus is on the district meeting federal No Child Left Behind requirements, not the fate of the grade level centers.
"The reconfiguration was not in and of itself unlawful," Akemann said. "The district has the power to alter boundaries, but the alterations cannot remove the (No Child Left Behind) mandate. How those mandates are carried out is, and will remain, with the district."
The question is what exactly are the mandates.
District 303 officials believe the initiation of the lawsuit in 2011 by 17 parents to undo the grade level centers paused the time frame for complying with No Child Left Behind. With that pause in place, only Richmond School has failed to live up to the standards for four years. That means the district must offer school choice and outside support services, and develop revised plans to help failing students succeed.
"Those are all actions we have already put in place," District 303 Superintendent Don Schlomann said in an interview Wednesday. In other words, the district is already complying with the judge's orders.
But Tim Dwyer, the attorney for the parents who sued, told Akemann he doesn't agree with the premise.
Dwyer said there is nothing in the No Child Left Behind law that allows any pause or delay in complying with the mandates.
The clock has been ticking all along, Dwyer said.
"It's absolutely clear that Richmond School has been in failure for six years," Dwyer said. "The findings of the order require that they immediately adopt and enact a restructuring."
A restructuring of a school entails five options, all of which involve major change:
• Close the school (in this case, Richmond) and reopen it as a charter school.
• Replace all or most of the school staff, including the principal.
• Contract with a private company to run the school.
• Let the state take over the school.
• Implement "other major restructuring of the school's governance that makes fundamental reform" in its management, financing, material resources and/or staffing.
Akemann said he would take a day or two to research exactly how long Richmond has failed and what the appropriate level of remedy should be.
But even that ruling may not be the end of the fight as both sides would still have the ability to appeal.
Any extension of the legal battle brings another timing element into the equation.
The No Child Left Behind law will sunset at the end of the current school year.
Dwyer said he believes district officials want to tie the issue up in the courts until the federal law expires in hopes that, by then, compliance with the law is a moot point.
Dwyer said the entire lawsuit could be settled out of court at any time.
He said his clients have told the district if they pay all the legal fees associated with the case and enact a realistic plan that brings the failing students at Richmond up to par with their peers, then they would drop the lawsuit.
"As far as the fees, they said, 'Absolutely not,' " Dwyer said. "With regard to the plan, they said they are already doing that. Is it ego? Pride? If the reason for not complying with the law is they don't want to admit that they're wrong, then we have a serious problem in this district."