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Jefferson Co. Board of Education sues to block new limits on its authority

Some judges are releasing young people facing charges to protect them from the spread of COVID-19.
Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron
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A gavel rests inside the court room of the 100th Air Refueling Wing base legal office at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 28, 2019. The attorneys in the legal office offer commanders legal advice and also provide services like notaries, power of attorneys, wills and legal assistance to Team Mildenhall. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

The Jefferson County Board of Education filed a lawsuit Monday to block new limits on the board’s authority from going into effect on July 14.

The board is challenging new hastily-passed provisions that single out the JCBE and prevent it from meeting more than once every four weeks to approve administrative matters. 

The GOP-led General Assembly added the meeting limits for the JCBE to Senate Bill 1 just before final passage, along with a provision that requires a two-thirds majority vote from the board to pass new policies, and one that gives authority over “day-to-day” operations to the superintendent.

“These unique provisions—which were enacted with no public review or discussion, and no legislative explanation of necessity or purpose—are directly contrary to the responsibilities and authority otherwise provided to every other school district in Kentucky in [state law],” lawyers for the JCBE write in their complaint.

Attorneys for the board say the new provisions are "expressly prohibited by the unambiguous terms” of the Kentucky Constitution. The lawsuit claims the new restrictions are “special legislation” not permitted under the state constitution because they target only one of 171 school districts.

The board is suing Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason Glass in his official capacity as the enforcer of the new provision. Glass, however, seemed to welcome the challenge in a statement from a spokesperson.

“Dr. Glass values and encourages strong and accountable leadership at all levels of public school management and honors the requirements set forth in the Kentucky Constitution. Given the constitutional prohibition on local or special legislation concerning the management of common schools, the JCBE presents a question that deserves review by the judicial branch,” the emailed statement from Toni Konz Tatman reads.

The new restrictions were added to a long-debated measure that gave district superintendents new powers over choosing curriculum and hiring principals. 

The GOP-led General Assembly is often at odds with the state’s largest school district. Those divisions flared over the last two years as the board took a more cautious approach to the pandemic than many conservatives wanted.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.