Gordon Parks Elementary court battle could indicate future legislative involvement


ST. LOUIS — Gordon Parks Elementary’s day in court Monday yielded the results they hoped for: a ruling that said their charter was wrongfully not renewed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, giving the chance to reopen their doors for the coming school year.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City
Sen. Jason Holsman

While the development involving Gordon Parks began after the legislative session, several members were either actively involved or actively monitoring the progress of the court proceedings and discussions about whether DESE had overstepped its boundaries in closing the charter school without any indication of need from the school’s sponsor.

The review process, according to some legislators, might need to be analyzed or reevaluated during the coming year.

“Myself and Senate colleagues are going to review the outcome of this court case and the existing statute and DESE’s actions, and then make a determination on whether the charter review process needs to be reformed,” Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said. Gordon Parks is in Holsman’s district. “We need to look at what good aspects of the process that need to remain, and what could be added or subtracted.”

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Boone County
Sen. Kurt Schaefer

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Boone County, who was one of the legislators to speak in favor of Gordon Parks during the court proceedings, said he also it would be a good idea for the legislature to take a look at some of the processes during the coming session.

“If you don’t have [public participation], then you have agencies like DESE just being arbitrary for political or whatever other reasons they have to make those kinds of decisions,” Schaefer said.

The first step of the legislative process, Schaefer said, would be to call in DESE during the appropriations process and ask why they haven’t promulgated rules.

“It’s unfortunate, but we have state agencies sometimes that don’t do those things are their own, so we have to remind them,” he said.

The Court Ruling

In the final court ruling handed down by Circuit Judge Daniel Green Monday morning, it was determined that DESE did not follow state law in the process they went through to not renew Gordon Parks’ charter.

Green wrote in his ruling that DESE’s decisions were “unreasonable and abused their discretion.”

In a statement released by Doug Curry, Gordon Parks School Board President, he said the school has been “saved.”

“The Court’s judgement means Gordon Parks Elementary School will be able to continue its mission by enrolling and educating students for kindergarten, first and second grade classes this fall,” he said. The school will only function with part of the normal grades during the coming year because in the uncertainty of the closing students and teachers were urged to make alternate plans.

DESE released a statement to The Missouri Times saying the Department is disappointed by the ruling.

“The Missouri Constitution vests supervision of public instruction in the State Board of Education,” DESE Communications Coordinator Sarah Potter said.

DESE stressed in their statement that charter schools have “a viable place” in public education, adding the importance of those schools to still be high quality.

“Irrespective of what other services they provide, their most important functions are teaching and learning and the success of the children they serve,” Potter said. “We hold all schools in Missouri accountable to the same high standards.”

Ashley Jost is no longer with The Missouri Times. She worked as the executive editor for several months, and a reporter before that.