Springfield Public Schools' reopening plan calls for virtual learning this semester.
Photo courtesy Google Maps
Springfield Public Schools' reopening plan calls for virtual learning this semester.

Litigation challenges SPS reopening plan

Posted online

Last edited 1:49 p.m., July 31, 2020

A lawsuit filed today seeks to undo Springfield Public Schools' reopening plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Kristi Fulnecky, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, claims SPS’ plan denies “equal access to education” for some students and that the district should partially refund property taxes if the reopening initiative is allowed to continue, according to a news release.

Plaintiffs Kristina Borishkevich, Erica Sweeney and Stoney McCleery allege violations of the U.S. and Missouri constitutions, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The plaintiffs are Springfield residents and their children attend SPS, according to a copy of the lawsuit provided by Kristy Nelson, a spokesperson for Fulnecky.

“The Springfield Public Schools reentry plan is incredibly harmful to many students, but especially to students with unique disabilities and circumstances. Many of these students are unable to participate in online learning and will regress," Fulnecky said in the release. "SPS has not provided equal access to education for these students."

The suit has been filed in Greene County Circuit Court, according to the Case.net online management system. It names the SPS Board of Education and its members, as well as Superintendent John Jungmann, as defendants.

The plaintiffs are asking the court for temporary and permanent injunctive relief against the SPS reopening plan.

Under the SPS plan, today is the deadline for parents to make one of two choices: for their children to attend classrooms for two days a week with virtual learning making up the remaining three days, or full-time virtual learning.

SPS legal counsel Ransom Ellis, of Ellis, Ellis, Hammons & Johnson PC, said in a statement the lawsuit "does not provide practical solutions to address the unique and significant challenges faced by the school district and the community."

"It is an unfortunate distraction, without legal merit, during a difficult time for everyone," he said in the statement. "SPS is offering as much choice to students and parents as possible, with the promise that the district will reevaluate the ability to increase the number of in-person days in the classroom at the end of the first quarter. The decision will be based on health data that tracks the local progression of the pandemic and its effect on the school environment."

Fulnecky also is making the economic case against the SPS plan, saying that if students are not allowed to attend class in-person five days a week, taxpayers are entitled to a partial refund of property taxes used to fund the district.

"The plan creates unnecessary economic hardship on families who have to quit jobs in order to home-school their children or attempt to hire professionals who are trained to work with unique abilities,” Fulnecky said in the release. “The residents of Missouri have rights to free and equal access to public education as provided for by our property taxes."

It's the second suit against a public entity announced in the past week that's represented by former City Council member Fulnecky. She's also serving as the attorney for plaintiffs in a case against the city of Springfield's masking ordinance

The lawsuit filed last week against the city of Springfield names all council members who voted for the masking mandate, as well as the municipality. Plaintiff Rachel Shelton is seeking an injunction against the masking ordinance that took effect July 16.