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Turner Exits School Transfers Case; Trial Gets Delayed

Jane Turner, who became the namesake of the controversial school funding case Turner v. Clayton, is no longer a party to the lawsuit.

Jane Turner and a fellow plaintiff who sued the are no longer affiliated with the legal battle that spurred a statewide discussion on the rights of students in unaccredited school districts.

The move came Tuesday during a motion hearing in the Turner v. Clayton case at the before Judge David Vincent III.

Turner is one of several St. Louis City Public School District parents who worked out agreements with the Clayton district to send their children to Clayton schools in the 2007-08 school year. That same year, the St. Louis City Public School District lost its accreditation.

The families claimed that the unaccredited district was obligated to foot the bill for educational costs in Clayton. But Clayton schools refused to bill the city district, so the families sued.

Turner’s children are no longer students in the district, said her attorney, Elkin Kistner. Another plaintiff, William Drendel, also is no longer associated with the case. Kistner’s only remaining client, Gina Breitenfeld, still has students attending school in the Clayton district and will remain a party to the lawsuit.

“The plaintiffs believe that they cannot get relief on the back end as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision,” Kistner said after Tuesday’s hearing. “(Turner) views it as unfair.”

In other developments, the judge agreed to allow the attorneys three additional months to prepare for a case after three taxpayers entered the fray to argue that the state’s requirement that all students should be allowed to transfer from unaccredited schools to neighboring districts represents an unfunded mandate.

In July, the court . They argue that Clayton couldn’t open its doors to students from unaccredited school districts given the number of students who would transfer and the district's capacity.

They also argue that the Hancock Amendment to the Missouri Constitution doesn’t allow such transfers because they represent an unfunded mandate on Clayton taxpayers.

James Layton, a solicitor general from the Missouri Attorney General’s office and other attorneys requested more time to prepare for the case now that a new facet of the law is in question.

“We need to understand the state’s obligation under Hancock,” he said during the hearing. “What did the state require in 1980, and what does it require now?”

Vincent also rescheduled the trial to begin Jan. 23. The will now serve as a status hearing for all parties involved in the case.

The judge also allowed the . The Special School District provides special education to more than 23,000 students throughout the 22 school districts in St. Louis County. The Special School District has a tax levy separate from individual school districts.

“We’re unique to the state,” SSD attorney Mike Hodge said. “We would like to make sure whatever role we have may be needed to be clarified.”

Under the current law, students from unaccredited districts can choose to attend schools in neighboring counties.

The St. Louis County Circuit Court originally ruled in favor of the school districts, saying the statute didn’t apply to the St. Louis city school district. A series of appeals followed and resulted in July's Missouri Supreme Court decision. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the unaccredited districts are required to pay tuition and the accepting school district has no discretion in the matter. It remanded the case back to the St. Louis County circuit court.

The Missouri General Assembly failed to produce a legislative solution to the problem in its last session and will not address the issue at this week’s special session in Jefferson City.

Kistner—who admitted the case and the dismissal of two of his plaintiffs from the case was frustrating—said that ultimately the legislature will have to find a solution, not the courts.

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