By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Thursday that circuit courts do not have the authority to order schools to provide alternative educational opportunities for expelled students.
The court ruled in a case involving a 15-year-old high school student who was expelled for three semesters from a Madison public high school in 2009 after he took nine bags of marijuana to school.
The court’s 4-3 decision upholds an appeals court ruling that said Dane County Circuit Judge David T. Flanagan should not have ordered the school to develop and implement an educational plan for the student.
State law authorizes circuit courts to order students to attend a variety of programs, but the Supreme Court said it does not give the lower courts the power to order a school district to create programs for students.
The case was the first of its kind for the Supreme Court. Madison superintendent Dan Nerad said he thought it was uncommon for judges to issue orders to school districts related to expelled students, such as the one that led to the lawsuit.
Nerad said he was pleased with the decision because it reinforces the school board’s ability to make judgments about student placements following expulsions.
Bruce Meredith, an attorney for the judge and the circuit court, said in a statement that he hoped that despite the ruling, schools and judges will continue to work together to deal with issues involving troubled children.
Justice David Prosser, writing for the majority, was joined by Justices Patience Roggensack, Michael Gableman and Annette Ziegler. Dissenting were Justices Patrick Crooks and Ann Walsh Bradley along with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.
In the dissent, Crooks said circuit courts have the authority to order schools to provide services for expelled students.
“The school district does have the power to expel a student, but that power does not relieve it of its obligations to provide educational services, if a circuit court orders the school district to do so,” Crooks wrote.