In a decision published April 3, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the March 3, 2016 vote by the Stillwater Area School Board to close Marine, Withrow and Oak Park Elementary Schools.
Judge John R. Rodenberg wrote in the court opinion document, “School-closing decisions are by their nature political decisions, entitled to judicial deference and respect because the decision to close a school is so important to the local community. For that reason, courts decline to substitute their judgment for the judgment of locally elected officials, who are both most familiar with the community’s issues and most directly accountable to the voters.”
The Stillwater Area School District released the following statement in response to the court’s decision, “We appreciate the Court’s consideration of this issue. Our student, staff and families of varying perspectives have remained earnestly and deeply engaged throughout this process, and we are grateful to them. We are looking forward to working along with our communities to continue our transition into the start of the 2017-2018 school year.”
The case was brought to the appellate court by community group 834 VOICE. The group released the following statement in response to the court’s decision, “We fundamentally disagree with this decision. The majority of our community didn’t agree with the District’s decision to close three schools. Perhaps most disappointing is how this decision affirms just how much power a local school board has over the community. Once they have control over our tax dollars, they have the discretion to do almost anything they want until the next election. Unless the courts or the legislature are willing to protect communities from over-reaching, unnecessary, irresponsible school board decisions, the ballot box is our only recourse. We are thankful we had an opportunity to represent our community to The Court of Appeals. We are saddened by this decision and the impact it will have not just on District 834 but all Minnesota school districts. We are particularly concerned about the start of the 2017-18 school year. Parents are already anxious about the affects so many changes occurring at once will have on students. Reduced school choice and overcrowding seem almost certain. Despite a tax payer investment of over $50 million dollars, there will not be enough classrooms at the high school. Our school board is still struggling to demonstrate a commitment to transparency and trust. We are considering all options including an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. But, any action requires careful thought. We want to thank everyone who contributed to this effort. We never would have gotten this far without the overwhelming support of our wonderful community. Fighting for what you believe in is important. We will continue the fight to restore honesty and integrity to our school district.”
This story has been updated and will be updated with more information.