King v. Beaufort County Board of Education: North Carolina Supreme Court Rules on Right to Alternative Education

By Dan Behrend, staff editor For some, the North Carolina Supreme Court’s much anticipated decision in King v. Beaufort County Board of Education went too far.  For others, it did not go far enough.  Advocates argued on one side for the recognition of a right to education in cases involving student suspension, on the other side for continued deference toward schools dealing with issues of student discipline.  At issue in the case was whether North Carolina schools could assign students long-term suspensions without providing them with access to alternative education.

In reaching its decision, the court reconciled two lines of prior cases.  One line of cases found that the North Carolina State Constitution provides students with a fundamental right to a sound basic education.  A second line of cases, gave great deference to school districts for cases involving student discipline.  The decision in King, therefore, provides some clarification regarding what impact the state’s recognition of a fundamental right to education has on school discipline cases.

The North Carolina Supreme Court held in King that: (1) the North Carolina State Constitution does not provide a fundamental right to alternative education; however, (2) “[b]ecause exclusion from alternative education potentially infringes on a student’s state constitutional right to equal educational access, school administrators must articulate a reason when they exclude a long-term suspended student from alternative education.”

A case that began with the suspension of two students resulted in a legal decision that will impact students across North Carolina and possibly beyond.    The decision will have an immediate impact in North Carolina, where school boards will now be required to offer an “important or significant” reason for denying students serving long-term suspensions from access to alternative education.  Just as the North Carolina Supreme Court cited education cases from other states in its opinion, the King decision will likely be relied upon by other state courts grappling with cases involving  the recognition of a right to education.

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