Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Plaintiffs in School Board Lawsuit Will "Wait and See"

The Arlington Public Schools Board will meet in June to revote on decisions it made once already in February, after a judge ruled that the public hearings for that vote were not properly advertised.

Arlington Circuit Court Judge Joanne Alper handed down a decision May 28 stating that the votes taken on Feb. 14 were made illegally as the public hearings of Feb. 13 and 14 had not been properly advertised. The plaintiffs in the case will “wait and see” whether to pursue more legal avenues regarding how the boundary decisions were made after the June 12 meeting, one of the plaintiffs said.

(Click to enlarge the image.)

“The county has rules, operating rules,…that form the basis for how they make boundary decisions,” said plaintiff Joe Delogu. “They did not follow their own rules.”

The Feb. 14 meeting was the culmination of months of study and testimony regarding over-crowding in a handful of North Arlington elementary schools. However, a public hearing that potentially influenced the votes of school board members was delayed by an an ice storm from Feb. 12 to Feb. 13 and 14.

According to a school system press release last week, the Feb. 13 public hearing was “procedurally defective” because it was not advertised in newspapers at least 10 days in advance. This voided the redistricting vote, the release says.

“You know I think the press release speaks for itself. The only thing I would add is that we respect the judge’s decision,” said School Board Chair Ed Fendley in a recent interview.

Three plaintiffs—Joseph and Nancy Delogu; Jay Stewart and Deborah Morone; and Matthew and Stacy Keeley—brought the law suit against the school board on March 17 claiming that the school board’s decision, which moved planning unit 1601 where they live, was illegal not only for the failure to advertise the meeting properly but also for breaking the school board’s own policies.

Specifically, the plaintiffs maintained that the school board did not properly consider alternatives to moving boundaries, which the school board’s policy requires.

The May 28 hearing looked only at the issue of advertising. Another hearing was scheduled for June 23 to look at the issues surrounding policy, but that hearing has been taken off the docket, said Linda Jackson, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Mr. Delogu said the plaintiffs will meet after the June school board meeting and figure out whether to proceed with a law suit regarding the way in which the decision was made.

The June vote on boundaries will break yet another school board policy, Mr. Delogu said. The board is not supposed to be deciding issues of boundaries after April.

“So they’re breaking yet another one of their rules in order to hold this revote,” he said.

Ms. Jackson said, “The overarching principle…is to hold the school board accountable.”

Planning units are the portions of neighborhoods that the school system looks at when changing the boundaries of different schools. PU1601 was part of Tuckahoe Elementary, but after the vote on Feb. 14, it became part of Nottingham Elementary School, a change that was to take place in the 2008-09 school year.

For their part, the school system said in court documents that the school board had contacted all speakers slated for the Feb. 12 meeting to notify them of the change of date.

“At both sets of hearings each of the Plaintiffs themselves, and/or their spouses, personally testified and addressed the School Board,” the document says. As well, one public hearing had been properly advertised and executed in January, thereby alleviating the need for further meetings, the school board argued.

No word as yet from the judge explaining her decision. The revote will take place on June 12.

Frank Bellavia, a spokesperson for the schools, said “I can’t speak to what the board members are going to do,” but that he did not expect a change in the vote.

Does Mr. Fendley think the voting, which was unanimous in February, will change? He said, “Come on out on the twelfth.”

Related stories…
  • HeraldTrib's Links to Boundary Issues Page (updated regularly)

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