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Woman takes district to court
Complaint targets plan for flexibility
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Forsyth County News
Calling the plan unnecessary, a self-proclaimed education advocate has taken a stand against the Forsyth County school system’s pursuit of flexibility from some state mandates.

Carmen Allen contends the school district did not adequately involve and inform the public of its plan to seek Investing in Education Excellence, or IE2, status.

Less than two hours before the school board approved a draft contract proposal on Feb. 26, Allen filed a writ of mandamus in Forsyth County Superior Court. The legal action asks that a judge compel the school district to follow the law.

For its part, the school system is confident officials not only followed, but exceeded, the state requirements to inform and involve parents.

“We will be filing a motion to dismiss, claiming that not only are the claims factually inaccurate, but that the legal relief sought is not available and is inappropriate under these circumstances,” said Phil Hartley, attorney for the school system.

“We believe very strongly that factually and legally, the claim is deficient and will be dismissed by the court.”

In essence, Allen is asking the judge to rule that the school board should have tabled its vote due to a lack of proper notice, knowledge, consent or adherence to the state’s sunshine laws, which regulate the manner in which government meetings should be held.

“These are our schools, these are our children, these are our tax dollars and we have a right to not only know about it, but to be involved and be a part of it,” said Allen, whose son attended the school system.

“I’ll be darned if people think I’m just going to stand by and watch them do whatever they want, pass things that they want to do and ignore us.”

Unless the district’s motion to dismiss is approved, Allen’s complaint is scheduled to go before Judge David Dickinson on May 5. She contends that residents were not properly notified of the Feb. 16 public hearing at Otwell Middle School.

The school district maintains it followed state sunshine laws, which require notice of the meeting be published in the legal organ, the Forsyth County News, at least 24 hours in advance and that a notice be posted at the board’s regular meeting place.

It did both. In fact, School Superintendent Buster Evans said the system has “gone above and beyond what the law calls for.”

“We certainly want to be totally open and transparent and address all the issues and concerns in a way that does nothing but build trust with all of the stakeholders in our community in our effort to provide what we think are greater opportunities for all our students,” Evans said. “It has really been a community effort that I think we’ve done an extremely good job in doing.”

Allen also argues the proposed five-year contract between the state and local school board is not needed, saying state and federal laws offer flexibility. She also worries about potential extra cost to taxpayers, for possible additional classes or programs.

“We don’t have to enter into a five-year contract to do any of the things that they have proposed in IE2,” she said. “To adopt new [policies], that’s more money that we’re spending.

“I want the cost analysis for everything that they’re going to do and how they ran the cost analysis and how it is that they’ve decided that this is a better plan than what we have currently.”

While the system is seeking 14 areas of flexibility from state law in exchange for increased accountability, it’s up to each individual school to decide on a plan.

Evans said some schools may just want to use a few areas of flexibility.

If the state board of education approves the request in April, Evans said each school will continue to work with parents, teachers and students to figure out what flexibility plan works best to meet that school’s needs, without increasing cost.

Allen’s primary complaint is of a lack of proper communication.

But Jennifer Caracciolo, who handles the system’s communications, said the entire draft proposal and executive summary were posted on the district’s Web site Feb. 12.

The plan was also presented during the Jan. 15 board meeting, which was posted to the school system’s Web site and broadcast on the Forsyth county government cable TV channel.

In addition, Caracciolo said, information on the proposal was presented over the next month to various parent and administrator groups. Local school councils were invited to the public meeting and more than 8,000 households received an e-mailed newsletter with information on the plan.
The plan started coming together in January, though Caracciolo said community involvement actually began in August, when the school board held several community meetings to gather input on the district’s strategic plan.

“The IE2 flexibility came directly from the feedback we got from the community for the past seven months,” Caracciolo said. “One isolated case can’t undo what the community has said it wants.

“We’re doing what best meets the needs of the students based on the general feedback from the community, and not from one isolated individual.”

For Allen, however, it’s not just about feedback.

“It’s time that we include [the whole community],” she said. “And when I say include, I don’t mean consider what we say. I mean implement our ideas. I mean really have participation from all of us, not just those that are making money off the system.

“I don’t want to fight with the school system. All I want really is for everybody to make education work.”

E-mail Jennifer Sami at