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GIRARD SCHOOLS Judges: School lawsuits should go to state court



Published: Thu, August 23, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A hearing will be conducted Friday to determine if the school board should be prohibited from reopening Prospect Elementary School.

By PEGGY SINKOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Judges in two federal courts have ruled that lawsuits involving Girard schools should be heard in state court.

Atty. Sebastian Rucci, who represents several Girard parents and former Girard Intermediate School principal Robert Foley, said Judge Dan Polster, of U.S. District Court in Akron sent back to Trumbull County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday a $30 million suit filed by about 50 parents whose children attend Prospect Elementary School.

Judge Peter Economus of U.S. District in Youngstown sent Foley's case back as well, Rucci said this morning.

Judge Polster remanded the lawsuit in his court one day after attorneys representing the Girard Board of Education asked the federal court to take the case.

Issues weren't specified: Judge Polster ruled that the case dealt mainly with state law issues and should be heard in a state court. He didn't specify the issues.

Federal court cases usually deal with constitutional issues, court officials said.

Lawyers sought originally to have the parents' case heard in federal court because another suit filed by Girard's intermediate school principal had previously been sent there.

Rucci said the board's attorney wanted the case to be moved to federal court in an attempt to thwart hearings that were scheduled in common pleas court.

"Clearly, a court hearing with both parties present is not to the Board of Education's [and its attorney Lou Damiani's] liking," Rucci said.

Foley contends in his suit that the school board violated his civil rights by assigning him to the junior high school in retaliation for his speaking out about staff and pupil illnesses at the intermediate school.

Judge Peter Kontos of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court said that because the case has been sent back to his court, he will have a hearing on the matter at 9 a.m. Friday.

About the lawsuit: The suit, which was filed earlier this month, contends that the school has health problems because it is connected to the intermediate school.

The suit asks a judge to order that the school be closed when classes resume in the district next week. Parents said they want their children to go to a different school.

The Ohio Department of Health announced earlier this week that the school is safe to open and, according to school officials, a letter from the Girard Health Department also says the school is safe.

"The truth, as accountants say, is in the numbers," Rucci said. "Unfortunately, the board did not give numbers as their letters are unsupported by any factual documentation. They are simply conclusions, without support."

Reopened school: Both Girard Intermediate and Prospects schools were closed May 1 by the board, but Prospect reopened three days later.

The intermediate school will remain closed when school begins Tuesday, school officials said. They have not said when the school will reopen.

Several parents also filed a lawsuit last week in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court asking that the board members be removed because they didn't inform parents of the reported health problems at the school.

A pretrial hearing on that suit is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday in the courtroom of Judge W. Wyatt McKay of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

sinkovich@vindy.com




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