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Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District

August 13, 2019

MICHAEL JONES, ET AL., Respondents.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri The Honorable Patricia S. Joyce, Judge

          Before Division Four: Karen King Mitchell, Chief Judge, Presiding, Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judge, Timothy J. Flook, Special Judge


         Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy, Inc., et al, [1] ("Banneker") appeal a Judgment in favor of Respondents (the University of Central Missouri ("UCM"), the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ("DESE"), the Missouri State Board of Education ("SBE"), and individual members of the SBE), on Banneker's "Verified Petition for Breach of Contract, Violation of Civil Rights, Declaratory Judgment, and Injunctive Relief." Banneker claims on appeal that, 1) the circuit court erred in entering judgment against Banneker on Banneker's breach of contract claim because injunction was a viable remedy, entitlement to which Banneker established, 2) the circuit court's finding that Banneker failed to establish intentional discrimination was against the weight of the evidence, and 3) the circuit court's conclusion that Banneker was not entitled to declaratory relief was contrary to the law and against the weight of the evidence. We dismiss this appeal as moot.

         Background Information

         Banneker filed a petition March 14, 2018, alleging that Banneker Charter Academy, in conformity with Missouri's Charter School Law, entered into a Charter School Contract with UCM expiring June 30, 2018. On October 27, 2017, UCM informed Banneker that, upon expiration, UCM would not renew the contract. Banneker's petition alleged that, in assessing the renewal of Banneker Charter Academy's Charter School Contract, UCM failed to meet its contractual obligation to base its renewal decision on a thorough analysis of a comprehensive body of objective evidence as required by Section 160.405.4(6)(b)[2] and 5 CSR 20-100.260(8)(A)[3] (Count I, breach of contract claim). Section 160.405.4(6)(b) states that "Student performance shall be assessed comprehensively to determine whether a high-risk or alternative charter school has documented adequate student progress. Student performance shall be based on sponsor approved comprehensive measures as well as standardized public school measures." 5 CSR 20-100.260(8)(A) states that sponsors are to use comprehensive academic, financial, and operational management data to make decisions about renewal and closure. Further, sponsors are to base renewal decisions on "thorough analyses of a comprehensive body of objective evidence defined by the performance framework in the charter contract" and "grant renewal only to schools that have achieved the standards and targets stated in the charter contract, are organizationally and fiscally viable, and have been diligent to the terms of the contract and applicable law."

         Banneker further alleged that UCM failed to meet its contractual obligations by relying on Annual Performance Report [APR] scores because, "[a]lthough such scores appear to be a facially neutral standard to gage [sic] student and school performance, all schools are required to reach a one-size-fits-all 70% APR ranking to remain viable." Banneker argued that, "Missouri's Charter School Laws as implemented by the SBE, DESE, and the named defendants, treat charter schools differently than public schools and authorize sponsors to make renewal decisions without considering whether sponsors are complying with contractual and statutory obligations." Banneker alleged that, since 1999, there have been sixty-three charter school districts, with twenty-one of those having closed "for allegedly inferior performance or operational reasons, thereby further victimizing 'high risk' and 'at-risk' charter school students in a disproportionate adverse manner unlike other students in Missouri Public Schools."

         Banneker alleged that Banneker's Charter School Contract had no mechanism for appealing a non-renewal decision based on UCM's alleged failure to take into account the comprehensive body of evidence identified by Banneker as necessary for proper review of the charter renewal. Banneker further alleged that UCM failed to establish procedures to be implemented for closing the charter school as required by law. Banneker asked the court to enjoin and restrain Respondents from their actions.

         In Count II and Count III of Banneker's petition, Banneker alleged that Respondents unlawfully and intentionally discriminated against Banneker plaintiffs and violated their equal protection rights by, on the basis of race and color and in violation of the Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, excluding Banneker plaintiffs from participation in a program or activity covered by Title VI. Banneker contended that closing Banneker Charter Academy was discriminatory against the predominately African American Banneker Charter Academy students, arguing that similarly situated Missouri students from predominately white public schools did not have their schools immediately closed and sold, with students being sent to multiple locations, when the districts did not meet a 70% APR rating.

Banneker alleged that charter schools were created as a direct response to and partial remedy for racial discrimination and segregation impacting African American students in the Kansas City Public Schools. Banneker contended:
Despite the legal efforts to fashion a plan to desegregate schools within the area covered by the KCPS, Missouri's application of laws and regulations covering charter schools is nothing more than a continuation of state sanctioned, racially segregated, schools and school districts within Kansas City and the KCPS. The Charter School Laws, as applied, are a means to segregate, racially isolate, and treat African American students in a discriminatory manner because of their race.

         Banneker's petition conceded that Missouri's Charter School Laws establish facially neutral academic performance standards by reviewing academic achievement in all public schools based on five performance standards. These include academic achievement, subgroup achievement, high school readiness or college/career readiness, attendance rate, and graduation rate. Statistics are compiled in an APR for each school, and all schools within Missouri are required to reach a 70% APR ranking score to "remain viable." Banneker alleged that, while facially neutral, the Charter School Laws are discriminatory "as applied." In support of this claim, Banneker's petition cites various statutes which Banneker contends show that the Charter School Laws "provide limited requirements and guidance for charter school sponsors." Further, that Section 160.405.4(6)(c) allows charter schools to be required to meet the same performance standards as other public schools in Missouri, "even though such schools do not suffer the existential factors prevalent in charter schools." Banneker alleged that, use of the same standardized testing other public schools in Missouri utilize (specifically the Missouri Assessment Program or "MAP" test) results in racial discrimination when applied to charter schools because a "one-size-fits-all" approach is racially discriminatory. Banneker alleged that, although charter schools were created in Missouri to remedy racial discrimination and segregation, since their inception in 1998, the SBE, DESE, and other named defendants' application of a "one-size-fits-all" standard has resulted in 1/3 of all charter schools being closed, "which is clear evidence of the failure of this so called desegregation remedy." Banneker contended:

This has occurred without regard to the lingering vestiges of a deliberate and intentional de jure segregation system maintained for more than a century. This one-size-fits-all assessment practice has resulted in constant disruption of the educational environment for 'at risk' and 'high risk' students in these predominately African American schools, while preserving the stability and continuity in predominantly white schools outside the KCPS boundaries.

         Banneker alleged that, reliance on standardized test scores for nonrenewal of Banneker's contract ...

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