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Parents go to federal court to save bus service to Louisville’s magnet schools

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Parents go to federal court to save bus service to Louisville’s magnet schools

Jun 20, 2024 | 2:53 pm ET
By Deborah Yetter
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Parents go to federal court to save bus service to Louisville’s magnet schools
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A teacher waves to her students as they get off the bus at Carter Traditional Elementary School in Louisville on Jan. 24, 2022. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Two parents have filed a federal lawsuit challenging Jefferson County Public Schools’ plan to drop bus service to most magnet schools this fall, claiming it violates the rights of their children to continue education at schools they currently attend.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville Thursday, comes two months after the board of the state’s largest school system, in a highly controversial move, voted to end transportation to most magnet programs because of a shortage of bus drivers. The vote followed the chaotic beginning to the 2023 school year in which students waited hours for their school buses or missed service altogether because of a restructured transportation system.

JCPS was forced to temporarily suspend the start of classes to try to fix the system.

A JCPS spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thursday’s lawsuit echoes concerns of Louisville civil rights leaders who have argued that ending school bus service to magnet schools — which provide specialized programs or training — would disproportionately affect Black and low-income students whose families lack means to transport them to schools outside their home districts.

Overall, up to 15,000 students at nearly 30 schools could be affected although JCPS has said it is working on plans to try to restore some service for magnet schools.

The JCPS action could adversely affect up to 14,000 Black students, said the lawsuit filed by Louisville lawyer Teddy Gordon, a longtime legal adversary of the school system.

“I have come out of retirement and am in poor health in order to right the terrible wrong of JCPS current actions, especially the hardship that JCPS has placed on African American students,” Gordon said in a statement.

The lawsuit claims the JCPS transportation plan violates the rights of Black students, including the plaintiffs. It also claims that JCPS violated the state open meetings law through the hastily called meeting in April when the board adopted the plan.

And it notes the plan was adopted on vote of 4-3, with four white members voting for it, and the three Black members voting no. 

The lawsuit is filed by Mary Bledsaw, of Valley Station, and Taryn Bell, of West Louisville, and claims the lack of bus service would make it impossible for their children to attend their current schools.

Bledsaw has two sons in high school magnet programs, one at Male High and the other at Central High. Neither is close to their southwest Jefferson County home and likely would force both to attend Valley High, which the lawsuit calls “one of the worst high schools in Kentucky.”

Bell has a son enrolled in a magnet program at Whitney Young Elementary and without school bus service, could not attend it any longer, the lawsuit said. Instead, he would have to attend his home school, Martin Luther King Elementary, which the lawsuit also describes as “one of the worst schools in Kentucky.”

The lawsuit asks that a judge find the transportation plan violates the civil rights of students and block the district from implementing it.

JCPS spokesman Mark Hebert said, “We just received a copy of the lawsuit and are reviewing it,”

Also, the board has approved transportation for the 2024-25 school year for students at Western and Central high schools, both magnet schools, and federal law requires transportation for some special needs students, he said.
This story has been updated with response from the school district.