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Lawsuit Challenging Virginia School Takeover Law Filed

By Larry O'Dell
|  Thursday, Oct 31, 2013  |  Updated 2:31 PM EDT
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Lawsuit Challenging Virginia School Takeover Law Filed

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The Virginia School Boards Association and the Norfolk School Board filed a lawsuit Friday challenging a new law that allows the state to take over chronically failing schools.

The organizations had previously announced plans for the lawsuit, which was filed in in Norfolk Circuit Court. The association said more than two dozen local school boards have adopted resolutions supporting the lawsuit.

Legislation creating the Opportunity Educational Institution was a major component of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's 2013 education agenda. The law requires the institution's board to take over any public school that has been denied state accreditation, and authorizes it to take over any school that has been accredited with warning for three consecutive years.

Proponents of the legislation said a handful of schools have been allowed to fail for too long, shortchanging students who are entitled to a quality education.

“The governor believes every child in every community deserves the opportunity to attend a good school,” McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said.

The plaintiffs contend, however, that the statute usurps authority granted to local school boards by the Virginia Constitution.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli agrees. Late last month, he sent McDonnell a letter saying he could not defend the law because of constitutional issues. McDonnell will have to hire outside counsel.

One of the constitutional provisions cited by the plaintiffs says “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” The other gives the State Board of Education responsibility for creating school divisions.

The plaintiffs say the OEI board is not a school board and that the General Assembly -- not the state education board -- created what is essentially a statewide school division for struggling schools.

McDonnell, meantime, has pointed to other constitutional provisions giving the General Assembly broad responsibility for establishing and maintaining a high-quality education system.

“The law is both constitutional and the right thing to do,” Martin said.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the law unconstitutional and enjoin the OEI board from taking control of any schools.

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