Silver v. The Halifax County Board of Commissioners, 122118 NCSC, 338A17

Docket Nº:338A17
Opinion Judge:JACKSON, Justice.
Party Name:LaTONYA SILVER, individually and as guardian ad litem of BRIANNA SILVER, LARRY SILVER III, and DOMINICK SILVER; BRENDA SLEDGE, individually and as guardian ad litem of ALICIA JONES; FELICIA SCOTT, individually and as guardian ad litem of JAMIER SCOTT; HALIFAX COUNTY BRANCH #5401, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE; and C...
Attorney:Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix for plaintiff-appellants. Garris Neil Yarborough and M. Glynn Rollins, Jr. for defendant-appellee. Jane R. Wettach for Children's Law Clinic, Duke University School of Law; Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, by Peggy Nicholson and...
Case Date:December 21, 2018
Court:Supreme Court of North Carolina
 
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LaTONYA SILVER, individually and as guardian ad litem of BRIANNA SILVER, LARRY SILVER III, and DOMINICK SILVER; BRENDA SLEDGE, individually and as guardian ad litem of ALICIA JONES; FELICIA SCOTT, individually and as guardian ad litem of JAMIER SCOTT; HALIFAX COUNTY BRANCH #5401, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE; and COALITION FOR EDUCATION AND ECONOMIC SECURITY

v.

THE HALIFAX COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS

No. 338A17

Supreme Court of North Carolina

December 21, 2018

Heard in the Supreme Court on 16 April 2018.

Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, __ N.C.App. __, 805 S.E.2d 320 (2017), affirming an order entered on 2 February 2016 by Judge W. Russell Duke, Jr. in Superior Court, Halifax County.

Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix for plaintiff-appellants.

Garris Neil Yarborough and M. Glynn Rollins, Jr. for defendant-appellee.

Jane R. Wettach for Children's Law Clinic, Duke University School of Law; Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, by Peggy Nicholson and K. Ricky Watson, Jr., for Public Schools First NC; and Celia Pistolis, Aisha Forte, and Jennifer Story for Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc. - Advocates for Children's Services, amici curiae.

Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, PLLC, by S. Luke Largess and Cheyenne N. Chambers, for North Carolina Advocates for Justice, amicus curiae.

Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, by Beth Tyner Jones, Rebecca C. Fleishman, and Matthew Tilley, for North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, amicus curiae.

JACKSON, Justice.

In this case we consider whether plaintiffs have stated a claim for violations of their right to receive the sound basic education guaranteed by the North Carolina Constitution sufficient to survive defendant's motion to dismiss pursuant to North Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See N.C. G.S. § 1A-1, Rule 12(b)(6) (2017). Because we conclude that the State-and not a board of county commissioners-is solely responsible for guarding and preserving the right of every child in North Carolina to receive a sound basic education pursuant to the North Carolina Constitution, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.

The case sub judice is related to, yet distinguishable from, this Court's landmark decision in Leandro v. State, 346 N.C. 336, 488 S.E.2d 249 (1997) (Leandro I). The plaintiffs in Leandro I were students, parents or their legal guardians, and local boards of education from five relatively low wealth counties.1 One of the plaintiffs was Halifax County Public Schools, a local board of education which is one of the school systems relevant to this case but is not a party. The plaintiffs in Leandro I sued the State and the North Carolina State Board of Education alleging that their state constitutional rights relating to education were being violated. Id. at 342, 488 S.E.2d at 252. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief to secure their right to fundamental educational opportunities that were severely lacking allegedly due to inadequate funding from the State. Id. at 342, 488 S.E.2d at 252. In Leandro I we concluded that "Article I, Section 15 and Article IX, Section 2 of the North Carolina Constitution combine to guarantee every child of this state an opportunity to receive a sound basic education in our public schools" and that this includes a right to a qualitatively adequate education.[2] Id. at 347, 488 S.E.2d at 255. We remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of whether the defendants in that case had violated their constitutional duty to provide every child an opportunity to receive a sound basic education, with instructions to the trial court to provide declaratory or other relief if it was found that they had violated this duty. Id. at 357-58, 488 S.E.2d at 261. Seven years later, the case returned to this Court in Hoke County Board of Education v. State, 358 N.C. 605, 599 S.E.2d 365 (2004) (Leandro II). This Court reviewed, among other things, the trial court's order on remand, which found that the State had failed to meet its constitutional duties regarding education outlined in Leandro I by inefficiently allocating and spending funds for education and directed the State to remedy the deficiencies that caused this violation. Id. at 608-09, 647-48, 599 S.E.2d at 372-73, 396. We affirmed the trial court's order, which left to the State the "nuts and bolts" of educational resource expenditures as they relate to providing a sound basic education while generally instructing the State to "assume the responsibility for, and correct, those educational methods and practices that contribute to the failure to provide students with a constitutionally-conforming education." Id. at 609, 599 S.E.2d at 373.

According to the factual allegations in plaintiffs' complaint, which we take as true for the purpose of reviewing an order on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), see Krawiec v. Manly, 370 N.C. 602, 604, 811 S.E.2d 542, 545 (2018) (citing State ex rel. Cooper v. Ridgeway Brands Mfg., LLC, 362 N.C. 431, 442, 666 S.E.2d 107, 114 (2008)), plaintiffs are five children who live and attend school in Halifax County, their respective parents or legal guardians, and two interested organizations: the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Coalition for Education and Economic Security. Defendant is the Halifax County Board of Commissioners, which, plaintiffs allege, is required by the North Carolina statutes to provide funding for each of the three local boards of education in Halifax County and is authorized to maintain or supplement school programs, facilities, and equipment for the local school boards.

In contrast to most North Carolina counties that have just one local education area (LEA), Halifax County has three: Halifax County Public Schools (HCPS), Weldon City Schools (WCS), and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District (RRGSD). According to plaintiffs' complaint, in the 2014 to 2015 school year, the student populations of HCPS and WCS were overwhelmingly black, with HCPS's student population of 2988 schoolchildren 85% black and 4% white, and WCS's student population of 940 students 94% black and 4% white. At the same time, RRGSD's student population of 2929 schoolchildren was only 26% black and 65% white. Furthermore, the vast majority of students attending school in HCPS and WCS schools are considered "at risk." Our decision in Leandro II recognized that students may be considered "at risk" if, "due to circumstances such as an unstable home life, poor socio-economic background, and other factors, [they] either enter or continue in school from a disadvantaged standpoint, at least in relation to other students who are not burdened with such circumstances."3 Leandro II, 358 N.C. at 632 n.13, 599 S.E.2d at 387 n.13.

The facts alleged in plaintiffs' complaint are, unfortunately, all too familiar to this Court, as they mirror those of the plaintiffs in Leandro I. Plaintiffs allege that defendant's continued support and maintenance of this tripartite school district system and its refusal to manage and distribute resources efficiently among the school districts has resulted in defendant's failure to provide the students of Halifax County an opportunity to receive a sound basic education. They compare defendant's "inputs" and "outputs"[4] in the HCPS and WCS districts with those in RRGSD to bolster their allegations. As to "inputs," plaintiffs state that HCPS and WCS school buildings and facilities are woefully inadequate, with crumbling infrastructure and regularly failing heating and cooling systems. Plaintiffs also include a report that students at Northwest High School in HCPS recently have had to walk through sewage to move between classes because of defective plumbing. In addition, HCPS and WCS school students frequently lack textbooks and other basic curricular materials, with teachers relying on donations from parents to purchase books and other basic classroom necessities. Meanwhile, plaintiffs point out that the facilities at RRGSD schools are well kept and regularly renovated, and students have access to Advanced Placement classes and many other curricular and extra-curricular activities that are not available to HCPS and WCS students. Plaintiffs argue that funding disparities make it extremely difficult for HCPS and WCS to attract and retain quality, or even fully licensed, teachers and administrators, with these schools commonly resorting to hiring teachers from the Teach for America program or teachers with little or no experience. The percentage of fully licensed teachers in these districts ranges from 63 to 89%. In contrast, 95 to 100% of the teachers in RRGSD schools are fully licensed.

Plaintiffs claim this disparity in inputs is largely attributable to the...

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