- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A mother from suburban St. Louis alleged in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that her 9-year-old son is prohibited from transferring to a city charter school because he is black.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court was filed on behalf of La’Shieka White, whose family moved from St. Louis to Maryland Heights in St. Louis County in March. Her son, Edmund Lee, is a third-grader with a 3.8 grade point average at Gateway Science Academy in St. Louis, which he has attended since kindergarten.

The region’s desegregation program, which was formulated more than three decades ago, allows black students to attend mostly white schools in the suburbs. It also allows for suburban students to attend city charter schools, but black students cannot.

“We are long past the days when students can be turned away from school based on their race,” White said at a news conference. “Well, that’s what I thought.”

The suit names the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp., a nonprofit governed by a board of superintendents of the 16 county school districts involved in the desegregation program.

The lawsuit contends that the VICC board “is solely responsible for extending the race-based transfer program” and has the authority to change it. But the VICC said in a statement that it is governed by the desegregation agreement, which was aimed at increasing integration of schools in both the city and the county.

“This particular student’s ineligibility is a straightforward application of how the program works and the rules that we must abide by,” the VICC said.

In 1980, a federal appeals court ruled that St. Louis-area schools were illegally segregated. A 1983 desegregation agreement sought to “balance the racial makeup of the city and county schools” by allowing black city students to transfer to the county, and white county students to transfer to the city, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said in a statement.

But White’s attorney, Joshua Thompson of the Pacific Legal Foundation, said the agreement specifically singles out blacks who live in St. Louis County, barring them from transferring to city schools while allowing whites and students of other races to do so.

“It is outrageous that in this day and age, there will still be policies on the books that turn children away from school because of the color of their skin,” Thompson said.

White added, “It’s like being caught in a time warp.”

Thompson believes it is more than an oversight of an outdated law, saying that the nonprofit group being sued reaffirmed the standard in 2008 and 2012.

School officials at Gateway did not respond to interview requests, but have said previously they want to allow Edmund to attend but are bound by the desegregation agreement.

In addition to the lawsuit, White has begun a petition asking Missouri lawmakers to change the desegregation agreement. Staff members at the school are among the 134,000 people who have signed the petition.

The Pacific Legal Foundation is a donor-funded organization. Its website says it litigates for limited government, individual rights, equal protection and educational choice. It is handling White’s case for free.

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