To politicians across Kentucky who plan to vote against school choice for any reason, or who think supporting rules allowing only local school districts to authorize charters will let them skate by without accountability: meet Bethany Littlefield.
Littlefield is one of five parents and a grandparent representing seven students attending Crosby Middle School in eastern Jefferson County.
They’ve joined together to file a federal lawsuit against the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), alleging violation of their children’s civil rights by district officials who failed to confront the school’s known bullying and violence.
Rock-star lawyer Teddy Gordon calls Crosby a “den of anarchy” and claims its students have been going “through pure hell on a daily basis.”
While lawsuit claims offer only one side of the story, the case could get a boost from Louisville’s WDRB-TV report of 336 harassment and bullying incidents registered just at Crosby last year.
The lawsuit claims one girl was “left a bloody mess on the floor” by vengeful students angry that she reported bullying.
Littlefield described how her severely traumatized son “wouldn’t even stop at his locker” and would “run through the halls because of how dangerous it was.”
She eventually had to put him in Our Lady of Peace last year for treatment of severe depression after “he attempted to end his pain the only way he knew how.”
The district unbelievably denied Littlefield’s request that she be allowed to transfer her son to another JCPS school. She can’t afford private-school tuition.
Vickie Santana is another parent whose son attended Crosby for 1 ½ years before she and her ex-husband felt forced to remove her son from Crosby — which she claims had developed a culture of bullying and “environment of violence” — and enroll him in a private school.
Gordon rightly seeks monies in the lawsuit to help parents like Santana cover private-school tuition costs.
Even if some of the lawsuit’s charges do end up being overstated, collectively these incidents seem more than enough to give pause even to the most hardened school-choice opponent.
Options such as charter schools and scholarship tax credits could help defuse bullying, allowing families multiple, affordable alternatives to provide their children with better, safer educational experiences.
In addition to charter schools, if Kentucky creates a scholarship tax-credit program, businesses and individuals could make contributions against their state tax bill to nonprofit organizations for use as scholarships by parents whose financial circumstances resemble Littlefield’s but who also desperately want better schools for their children.
Even if it turns out Crosby doesn’t have a big problem, why should any parent in Kentucky or America be denied the option of enrolling or transferring their children to a traditional, charter or private school that works best for them?
Until Kentucky parents are empowered with more choices, bureaucrats and union bosses will continue imposing their will, which always seems centered on what’s best for school-system adults rather than what works for kids.
If edu-crats know parents have no realistic options, what motivation exists for them to respond to the pleas of the Bethany Littlefields of Kentucky?
Some might; too many won’t.
It’s time for policymakers to pass a strong statewide charter-school bill that doesn’t allow “deaf ears” to be the only authorizers while holding defenders of the status quo accountable for failing to competently confront the violence in their schools, all while bullying school-choice supporters who only want the best for their children.
It’s also past time to allow parents the kind of financial support empowering them to choose a private school if doing so offers the best opportunity for their child.
Even if policymakers — urban, suburban or rural — don’t consider themselves their brother’s keeper, they must understand: They are our children’s keepers.
Jim Waters is president of The Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read his weekly Bluegrass Beacon column at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at email@example.com and @bipps on Twitter.