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  • New School - News - Pittsburgh City Paper - September 2007 - Duquesne students had their school close. But in late August, 2007, after just three days at East Allegheny High School, their sentiments have changed.

'I was really upset and angry when they closed Duquesne. It was my school,' says Suiter, a senior, standing on her porch, which overlooks her now-defunct former high school. 'But now that I finally started at East Allegheny, I'm starting to like it.'"



Duquesne students' fate still unresolvedEdit

By Tim Puko, TRIBUNE-REVIEW, June 12, 2008

PHILADELPHIA -- The future of Duquesne's high school students could come down to middle school grammar.

On Wednesday, lawyers briefly debated the meaning of the phrase "has been" in a case that pits three local school districts against the state Department of Education and might determine where Duquesne students enroll.

The state closed Duquesne High School because of poor conditions. Seven Commonwealth Court judges in a Philadelphia courtroom heard the first oral arguments of the 10-month-long case.

West Mifflin Area, East Allegheny and South Allegheny school districts are asking the court to void a law passed last summer that prompted the state education secretary to reassign Duquesne's high school students and teachers to those districts.

Only a district that "has been placed" on the state's education empowerment list for struggling districts can have its high school students dispersed by the secretary of education, the law states.

The way the phrase "has been" is written in the law limits its application to one district -- Duquesne -- and therefore makes it unconstitutional, said Paul Lalley lead attorney for the schools.

"This decision might come down to whether the language in place means you are currently on the list, or were at some point placed on the list," Lalley told the judges, repeating one part of his previous written arguments.

"The phrase 'has been placed' in this context expresses the present perfect tense of the verb, which implies an action that occurred in the past but is continuing in the present," Lalley specified in his written argument, citing the 1992 manual "A Writer's Reference" as his source.

Only Duquesne is on that list and meets all the requirements of the law. The state also has added strict limits to the list, making additions virtually impossible, Lalley said.

The state's attorney, Joseph Miller, conceded to judges that Lalley's interpretation of the grammar would make the law unconstitutional. He then asked judges to ignore that interpretation, saying it would be inappropriate to assume the Legislature would approve an obviously unconstitutional law.

Instead, that should be proof that "has been" was the Legislature's intentional use of past tense so that the law could apply to any district that was ever on the educational empowerment list, Miller said. The state has placed 14 districts on the list, including five others beside Duquesne that meet the law's size requirements.

Judges focused several questions to the lawyers about the law's constitutional merit, including one about the relevance of the education empowerment list.

"The constitution is very specific. It doesn't allow the Legislature to aim at one school district or one municipality," Judge Dante Pellegrini said to Miller. "What you're saying is that 'The constitution is clear, but I can get around it'? I know that's a loaded question."

On Tuesday, state Rep. Bill Kortz, who represents parts of West Mifflin and South Allegheny, predicted that chaos would ensue if the court sides with the school districts. Duquesne families could go deep into the summer for a second consecutive year without knowing where their teenagers would go to high school.

Court Case about High School ClosureEdit

A Pennsylvania court has upheld the PA Education Department's decision to transfer students from a closed suburban Pittsburgh high school to two neighboring school districts.

Commonwealth Court issued a 5-2 ruling in September 2008 that found the state's decision to reassign former Duquesne High School students to the West Mifflin Area and East Allegheny school districts was constitutional.

The state took over the Duquesne City School District in 2000 and closed the high school last year, citing mounting financial problems, poor test scores and declining enrollment.

Lawyers for West Mifflin Area and East Allegheny say the law allowing the transfers is unconstitutional because it only applies to Duquesne.

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