Does state law require public schools to be "open to all"?
Does state law mandate "equality of educational opportunity"?
Do the courts recognize education as a fundamental right?
Yes—Leandro v. State (1997)
Art. 9 § 1. Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools, libraries, and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
Art. 9 § 2. The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.
In North Carolina, attendance zones could be vulnerable on two legal fronts: (1) a challenge based on the promise in the state constitution that the public schools provide “equal opportunities … for all students,”and(2)an equal protection challenge with strict scrutiny review, because the NC Supreme Court has ruled education to be a fundamental right.
Voluntary program for districts with significant local discretion, allowing districts to assign children to a school outside their attendance area “for any other reason which the board of education in its sole discretion deems sufficient.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-367
Voluntary for districts. Requires approval of both resident district and receiving district. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-366(d)
State Law Establishing Attendance Zones
N.C.Gen. Stat. § 115C-47: “Local boards of education shall have the power or duty: (3) To Divide Local School Administrative Units into Attendance Areas. – Local boards of education shall have authority to divide their various units into attendance areas without regard to district lines.
State Law Criminalizing Use Of Incorrect Address
N.C.Gen. Stat. § 115C-366(a3): If a student resides with a non-custodial adult, an affidavit must be submitted swearing that the student is not residing with that adult primarily to gain attendance at a particular school. If a person “willfully and knowingly provided false information in the affidavit, the maker of the affidavit shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor and shall pay to the local board an amount equal to the cost of educating the student during the period of enrollment.”
Charter School Admissions
Charter schools are forbidden from discriminating against students based on their residential address within the school district. The exception is conversion charter schools, which must give enrollment priority to students who reside in the former attendance area of the school. N.C.Gen. Stat. § 115C-218.45