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MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today issued a formal opinion concluding that section 120.13(1)(f) of the Wisconsin Statutes--which allows a Wisconsin public school board to refuse to enroll a pupil who is currently expelled from another school district--does not provide authority to a Wisconsin public school board to deny enrollment to a pupil who has been expelled from a public school district in another state or from any private school. The formal opinion was provided in response to a request made by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Van Hollen's opinion is consistent with DPI's current construction of the statute as stated in its request letter.
Section 120.13(1)(f) of the Wisconsin Statutes provides in part that "[n]o school board is required to enroll a pupil during the term of his or her expulsion from another school district." In the opinion released today, Van Hollen found that the language and structure of section 120.13(1)(f), the applicable statutory definition of the term "school district," and the way in which that term is used in other statutes all strongly support the conclusion that the Legislature intended that term to refer only to public school districts within Wisconsin. Van Hollen also said that section 120.13(1)(f)--which specifies what expulsion-related information is to be shared between Wisconsin school districts--does not give Wisconsin school districts the power to investigate school expulsion proceedings in other states in order to ensure that an expelled pupil received the same procedural rights that would have been available in Wisconsin. Van Hollen further found that the federal Gun-Free Schools Act expressly does not require states to recognize expulsions of students based on their conduct at schools in other states. Finally, Van Hollen's opinion concludes Wisconsin public schools may not deny enrollment to a pupil based on that pupil's expulsion from a Wisconsin or out-of-state private school.
The formal opinion is Attorney General Van Hollen's fifth formal opinion of 2008 and his ninth since taking office on January 1, 2007. It is his second formal opinion to address public school enrollment issues. In December 2007, Van Hollen issued a formal opinion holding that open enrollment school district transfers could not be denied on the basis of the pupil's race.
Opinions of the Attorney General provide guidance about the meaning and application of Wisconsin law, and are often requested where Wisconsin appellate courts have not definitively answered a question or to address legal questions that are unlikely to be resolved in the course of judicial proceedings. Though Wisconsin courts do not have any obligation to follow an interpretation provided by a formal opinion of the Attorney General, they often will. As the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has written, "Well-reasoned attorney general's opinions have persuasive value when a court later addresses the meaning of the same statute."
A copy of today's opinion and request can be accessed here.