The North Carolina State Supreme Court has affirmed a state Court of Appeals ruling which upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the Halifax County Board of Commissioners on the operation of three separate school districts in Halifax County.
The state’s high court filed its opinion today and it was authored by Justice Barbara Jackson.
“We have determined that a complaint on its face fails to state a claim and will be dismissed when the complaint on its face reveals no law supports the plaintiff’s claim; the complaint on its face reveals the absence of facts sufficient to make a good claim or the complaint discloses some fact that necessarily defeats the plaintiff’s claim,” the opinion said.
The opinion says the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ constitutional claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “As we read these provisions of our constitution, it is clear that no express provision requires boards of county commissioners to provide for or preserve any rights relating to education.”
The opinion notes the legislature has provided statutory relief from inadequate funding if a local board of education determines funds appropriated to it by county boards of commissioners are not sufficient to support a system of free public schools.
The process involves the chairs of the commissioners and school board to meet jointly with a mediator to make a good-faith attempt to resolve their differences. If mediation fails, the opinion says, the local board of education may file an action in superior court where a jury may decide the appropriate budget for the school year.
However, Silver versus the Halifax County Board of Commissioners was initiated by the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights in August of 2015 and claimed the maintenance of three separate systems obstructed Halifax County's students from securing the opportunity to receive a sound, basic education.
The complainants also included the Halifax County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and three parents and grandparents of students within the county school system.
The plaintiffs alleged the county commissioners failed to meet its obligation to provide the opportunity to receive a sound basic education to all children in Halifax County and commissioners are constitutionally obligated to structure a system of public education that meets the qualitative standards established by the North Carolina Supreme Court in Leandro v. State and Hoke County v. State.
Says the state high court opinion, "If a local school board chooses not to pursue ... action, plaintiffs contend that relief from the courts is the only manner by which they may vindicate their right to a sound basic education as it pertains to county funding of local schools."
Says the opinion: "Again, (the) plaintiff's claim is untenable because it assumes that a county board of commissioners has some constitutional duty to provide a sound basic education in the first instance. As we conclude above, county boards of commissioners have no such duty, so plaintiffs are precluded from asserting constitutional claims against them concerning this specific constitutional right."
Concludes the opinion: "In keeping with Leandro, however, the duty to remedy these harms rests with the state and the state alone. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals that affirmed the trial court's order dismissing the action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted."
Halifax County Board of Commissioners Chairman Vernon Bryant said this afternoon, “As chairman of the Halifax County Board of Commissioners and on behalf of the Halifax County Board of Commissioners, we’re very pleased with the North Carolina Supreme Court affirming the action. Commissioners look forward to moving ahead working with all three school systems in providing the best opportunities we can as it relates to education and continuing to provide adequate funding to the three school districts as it relates to funding. We also appreciate the work by our attorneys in the case.”
David Harvey, president of the county chapter of the NAACP said, “We will get together and assess after the holidays and see where we need to go. We’re disappointed we didn’t get the ruling we sought.”
In February of 2016 Superior Court Judge W. Russell Duke Jr. dismissed the complaint, writing, “A dismissal … is appropriate when the complaint on its face reveals that no law supports the plaintiffs' claim. Having reviewed the pleadings, the motions of the defendant, the memoranda of law and arguments of counsel for the defendant and counsel for the plaintiffs, the court determines and finds that the complaint of the plaintiffs fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted by this court and the … action ought to be and the same is hereby dismissed with prejudice.”