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WIRTH v. CORNING

February 18, 1948

WIRTH et al.
v.
CORNING, Superintendent of Schools



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LETTS

The adult plaintiffs are residents of the State of Maryland and were and now are employed officially or otherwise in the District of Columbia; they bring this action for themselves and in behalf of their minor children, who reside with their parents. The defendant is the Superintendent of Schools in the District of Columbia and has supervision in all matters relating to the education of children entitled to the benefits of the public school system of the District of Columbia.

It appears without dispute that each of the minor plaintiffs had, on or before July 25, 1947, applied for enrollment as a pupil in the Woodrow Wilson High School, an institution under the supervision of the defendant; that each of such minor plaintiffs entered said High School at the opening of the Fall term in September, 1942, and has since been in constant attendance at the classes to which assigned.

 Title XXXI, Sec. 303, District of Columbia Code 1940, provides as follows:

 'All pupils whose parents are employed officially or otherwise in the District of Columbia shall be admitted and taught free of charge in the schools of said District.'

 As of January 27, 1948 the defendant by letters addressed to the parents required the withdrawal of the minor plaintiffs as students in the school as of January 30, 1948, the mid-year period, unless provision be made for the payment of tuition fees for the forthcoming mid-term to commence on February 2, 1948.

 The defendant agrees that the minor plaintiffs would be taught free of charge had not Congress withdrawn from them the right and privilege which plaintiffs assert. He says that unless the tuition bills are paid there is no alternative but to drop the minor plaintiffs from the rolls of the school. In justification of this stand he points to a proviso of the District of Columbia Appropriation Act for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1948, approved July 25, 1947, 62 Stat. 433, which provides in part as follows:

 'No part of the appropriations herein made for the public schools of the District of Columbia shall be used for the free instruction of pupils who dwell outside the District of Columbia: Provided, That this limitation shall not apply to pupils who are enrolled in the schools of the District of Columbia on the date of the approval of this Act.'

 What has been said presents in clear relief the sole question for determination in the case, i.e., were the minor plaintiffs enrolled as pupils in the Woodrow Wilson High School on or before July 25, 1947, when the appropriation act was approved.

 The answer to this question lies in a proper conception of what occurred. The mother of the minor plaintiff, William Lloyd Pogue, avers that on May 15, 1947, she endeavored to enroll her son in the Woodrow Wilson High School; that she was told that her son could not be enrolled until he could present a certificate of graduation from his Junior High School; that on June 19, 1947, her son graduated from his Junior High School and that within a few days proof of such graduation and of her son's credits were delivered to the enrollment officer of the Woodrow Wilson High School; that on June 23, 1947, she took her son for a conference with such enrollment officer; that on that occasion the enrollment officer examined the accredited status of her son; that a large questionnaire was produced and matters of curricular and extra-curricular activities were fully discussed, much of which as data and information was recorded on the form-questionnaire; that a final decision of appropriate courses of study was reached and was recorded by the enrollment official; that thereafter the representative of the school produced a large book and entered therein, under her son's name, much of the information gleaned from her and her son in the conference, the courses of study agreed upon, vital statistics, the address and various means of identification. Without further ado young Pogue was permitted to enter the school on the opening day of the Fall term.

 The defendant caused two letters to be mailed to the parents of each of the minor plaintiffs, they read as follows:

 'August 29, 1947

 'Concerning the new law relative to the attendance of District of Columbia Public Schools by non-residents, the following is quoted from Superintendent's Circular #8:

 'The effect of this opinion (of the Corporation Counsel) is as follows: Students who attended the public schools of the District of Columbia during the last school year or who on or before July 25, 1947, were enrolled to attend such schools beginning in September, 1947, may attend the District public schools this year without payment of tuition provided that ...


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