By Jewels Phraner
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
A Westmoreland County judge will hear arguments June 22 in a case involving the decision to close Laurel Valley Middle/High School.
The Ligonier Valley school board voted 8-1 in April to close the complex in the northern end of the district.
Shortly after the decision, 13 district residents filed a complaint against the district, the eight board members who voted in favor of the plan and Superintendent Christine Oldham. Director Victor Sansing voted against the closing.
District Solicitor Dennis Rafferty said the hearing is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. before Judge Gary P. Caruso.
If the case is not decided at that time, an injunction hearing is scheduled Aug. 2 and 3, he said.
The citizens' complaint alleges the school board acted illegally and violated public trust. It also alleges the decision to close the school was arbitrary, capricious, done in bad faith and "motivated by reasons unrelated to providing quality education."
The citizens are represented by Pittsburgh attorney Gary Matta.
Rafferty will represent the district, along with attorneys John Smart and Lee Price of Pittsburgh's Andrews & Price. Rafferty said Smart and Price's services were obtained through the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
The district responded to the complaint June 1, arguing that the plaintiffs do not meet the burden of proof established in previous court cases.
According to the district's response, courts historically have chosen not to interfere with decisions of governmental bodies unless officials have acted in bad faith, abused their power or acted capriciously or fraudulently.
The district's decision to close the school is neither arbitrary nor capricious, Smart contended.
"Arbitrariness and caprice are not to be confused with bona fide differences of opinion, allegedly unwise acts or asserted mistakes in judgments," the district said in its response.
Residents opposing the closure filed for an injunction that would stop the district from moving forward with the closure.
The group says that unless the district stops proceeding with the plan to move Laurel Valley students in grades six to eight to Ligonier Valley Middle and students in grades nine to 12 to Ligonier Valley High schools, the district will cause "immediate and irreparable harm."
The district argued that no such injunction is required.
"To the contrary, (the district) will suffer harm if the preliminary injunction is granted," Smart stated in his response.