NORFOLK-- The Norfolk School Board voted Wednesday night to file suit to stop the formation of a new division of the State Department of Education.
The division called the Opportunity Education Institution or OEI was created in legislation passed by the General Assembly during its last session.
The suit by the board and The Virginia School Boards Association claims the legislation is unconstitutional.
According to a school board news release, the legislation requires the OEI Board to take over the supervision and operation of any school denied accreditation or one that's been accredited with warning for three straight years.
"Our school board has been very clear with our legislators and with our community that we are the best equipped to handle the unique challenges and opportunities with public education in the city of Norfolk," said spokeswoman Elizabeth Mather.
The suit claims that the OEI legislation violates the constitutional mandate that school divisions be created by the Board of Education. The General Assembly created the OEI Board as a statewide School Division.
It also claims that the Constitution of Virginia says the supervision of schools in each school division shall be instituted by local school boards and not a statewide board.
The vote came on the heels of the news that most Norfolk schools are expected to lose full accreditation this year.
“We are not who we can be, and we are not who we will be,” Superintendent Dr. Samuel King said.
The division has released preliminary accreditation data, showing 31 out of 45 schools are failing to meet benchmarks. Last year, 14 of the city's 45 schools missed full accreditation. Now the number has risen to nearly 70 percent of Norfolk schools are falling behind.
While Norfolk has the worst accreditation rating in the region, more schools are also falling behind due to new harder SOL tests. The Department of Education plans to release official accreditation ratings September 24.
Portsmouth schools has also released preliminary accreditation ratings, projecting five of 19 schools to miss the mark.
“We are disappointed, but this shows we have some more work to do, that’s the bottom line. We are not the only one in this boat. Whenever the state changes the tests, local districts feel the pain,” school board member James Bridgeford said.
Chesapeake Superintendent James Roberts said although 100 percent of its schools have been fully accredited for the last six years, the division may lose its sterling record. Preliminary accreditation data shows some elementary schools may miss the mark this year, he said, pointing to the switch to computer-based tests and an increase in the number of special-needs students taking standard tests.
In an effort to improve Norfolk schools, Dr. King has proposed a transformation initiative. The plan would convert 10 existing schools into public charters and create an open-campus high school. Some of the cities lowest performing schools would see the changes: Lafayette-Winona Middle, Ruffner Academy, Lindenwood Elementary, Lake Taylor Middle, Tidewater Park Elementary, Booker T. Washington High, Jacox Elementary, James Monroe Elementary, Richard Bowling Elementary and P.B. Young, Sr. Elementary.
If the school board approves the transformation plan this fall, some of the changes could take effect the following school year.