Appellate court says Sequim teen has no right to stay in school past age 17

SEQUIM — The state Court of Appeals has ruled against Sequim resident Stuart McColl, who had asserted that his son has a constitutional right to stay in high school until he turns 18 even if the teen has completed his graduation requirements.

The court unanimously ruled on Nov. 9 that no harm had resulted from the school district’s actions, affirming Clallam County Superior Court Judge Brooke Taylor’s Aug. 29, 2008, ruling on the lawsuit filed June 11 that year.

Taylor had ruled that the district had not violated the constitutional rights of his son, Ted — now a 14-year-old high school sophomore — after the school district refused to juggle his enrollment status so he could leave high school when he is 18 instead of 17.

The district had denied McColl’s request that Ted be declared an eighth-grader for academic and athletic purposes and still take ninth-grade and accelerated courses so he could leave high school in 2013 rather than 2012.

By the time the appeals court ruled 3-0 in the district’s favor, the athletic issue was resolved — as a ninth-grader who skipped a grade, McColl’s son was allowed to take part in eighth-grade football.

District satisfied

Spokane lawyer Rockie Hansen, representing the school district, said Tuesday she is satisfied with the appeals court decision.

“We don’t think this is an issue that needs to be dragged through the courts like that. I’ve never had a case where parents sued the school district because they did not want to promote their child.”

McColl, who ran unsuccessfully for the Sequim School Board in 2007, said Tuesday he agrees with the appeals court that his son had not been educationally harmed by the school district’s actions — not yet.

McColl, still insisting the school district is duty-bound to educate his son as long as he is under 18, vowed to re-file the suit when the school district graduates his son at age 17, “on the day he is forced out and denied an education as a minor,” he said Tuesday.

“I would say I will reload and fire.”

Skipped fifth grade

At his parents’ request, Ted, who was taking part in the district’s highly-capable academic program, skipped the fifth grade, then successfully completed the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

McColl, objecting to his son’s promotion to ninth grade, asked the district allow his son to take an eighth-grade course to maintain his eligibility as an eighth grader, according to the appeals court.

Representing himself before the Court of Appeals, McColl argued that he has “a Constitutional property right to access the public school system until the age of 18,” according to the brief he filed with the court.

Emphasizing that children and minors are under the age of 18, McColl said the district’s graduation requirements set “an arbitrary line” that violates the Article 9, Section 1 of the state Constitution, which says, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

McColl said he “believes that forcing the child out of the public school system at the age of 17 is the appellant’s responsibility and problem because the appellant requested the acceleration in 2005, effectively skipping fifth grade curriculum,” according to his legal brief.

He said Tuesday that there are plenty of accelerated courses offered by Running Start and the University of Washington that would keep his son busy after he fulfills his graduation requirements and until he turns 18.

McColl: Son being punished

McColl said he believes his son is being “punished” for excelling in his classes.

But the court said school boards have the right to set graduation standards.

Because no rights had been violated nor potential constitutional harm resulted, the issues raised by McColl “are not ripe for review because the petitioners had not yet suffered disparate treatment,” said Presiding Appeals Court Judge C.C. Bridgewater, who authored the opinion.

Under state law, schools are open to admission of all persons 5 years old to less than 21 who live within that district, the court said.

“McColl has failed to show that Ted will not be afforded the opportunity to attend public school until the age of 21 to meet his graduation requirements,” the court said.

The court refused to speculate about what might happen between now and when McColl’s son turns 18.

“More speculation that the District will force Ted to graduate before turning 18 is not sufficient to defeat summary judgment. . . . The District has not violated any of Ted’s constitutional rights by refusing to hold him back in the eighth grade.”

McColl, a software developer, had declared his intention to “clean house” in the 2007 election, urging, for example, that elementary school students be banned from using calculators, before losing to incumbent Sarah Bedinger.


Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at [email protected]

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