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Court: No Fundamental Right to Alternative Education

Students suspended from school for fighting have no fundamental right to alternative education under the North Carolina constitution, the state's highest court has ruled. However, a school district must articulate a significant reason for denying such alternative schooling, the court held.

The ruling came in a closely watched case involving two students involved in a larger melee in January 2006 at Southside High School in the Beaufort County school district. Viktoria King and Jessica Hardy were suspended over their involvement in the fight and denied permission to attend the district's alternative learning center.

In its Oct. 8 decision in King v. Beaufort County Board of Education, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that even though there is a statutory right to alternative education in the state, there is no fundamental right to such an alternative for students who are violent or disruptive.

"School administrators are not required to provide alternative education to every suspended student, especially those students who forfeit this statutory right through their own misbehavior," said the majority opinion by Justice Mark Martin. "Because the safety and educational interests of all students receiving alternative education must be protected, students who exhibit violent behavior, threaten staff or other students, substantially disrupt the learning process, or otherwise engage in serious misconduct may be denied access."

The court said school districts that do deny access to alternative education must provide an "important or significant reason" for doing so. Because the Beaufort County school district had not provided any reason for denying the two students, the state high court sent the case back for further proceedings.

Two members of the seven member court concurred with sending the case back, but they partially dissented to suggest that access to alternative education was guaranteed as part of the fundamental right to education in the state constitution.

The seventh justice dissented in the other direction, saying that the majority ruling requiring districts to provide a significant reason for denying alternative education authorized the courts to second-guess the disciplinary decisions of school officials.

The Associated Press reports on the ruling here.

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