Beaufort County Case Settled In NC Supreme Court

A Beaufort County case that prompted the North Carolina Supreme Court to require an explanation from educators who deny long-term suspended students a chance at alternative school options has been settled, attorneys said Friday.

The case filed by two Beaufort County families had been headed back to Superior Court where school leaders were expected to state their reasons for barring students suspended in January 2008 from attending the county's alternative-school program.

Revondia Harvey-Barrow, mother of plaintiff Viktoria King, said the families were pleased with the Supreme Court's decision and did not feel a need to pursue the case further.

"The most significant part of this case is that schools no longer have the right or power to suspend a child without giving them an alternative education and then offer no reason for doing so," Harvey-Barrow said.

"We felt in this case the school's decision was arbitrary and capricious. Thanks to the court's decision, that cannot happen to another child."

Lewis Pitts, attorney for the families of King and Jessica Hardy, said he sent a letter to court officials Friday dropping the suit against the Beaufort County Board of Education.

Trey Allen, attorney for the Beaufort County School Board, said the plaintiffs will receive $7,000 from the North Carolina School Boards Trust.

"We decided to settle the case to avoid the cost of continued litigation," Allen said. "The board continues to believe it acted lawfully and appropriately."

The Supreme Court's October 2010 decision focused on whether students had a constitutional or state statutory right to an education, even while suspended 10 days or more for infractions.

The court ruled that school systems must consider alternative educational options for long-term suspended students and apply the state constitutional standard of "intermediate scrutiny" to any cases where an alternative is not to be offered.

"School administrators must articulate an important or significant reason for denying students access to alternative education," according to the 2010 decision.

The justices stopped short of requiring "strict scrutiny" in such cases, saying the heavier burden of justification could disrupt the application of school discipline policies.

The case arose from an incident at Southside High School on Jan. 18, 2008, when several fights broke out as students were dismissed for the day. Sophomores King and Hardy were among 15 students suspended for the remainder of the school year.

Harvey-Barrow said 10 of those students were later reassigned to the county's alternative school, while five others, including King and Hardy, were prevented from attending classes at either campus.

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