HOWLAND SCHOOLS Lawsuit gets statewide attention
A lawyer says many people are concerned about the outcome of this case.
By TIM YOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
HOWLAND -- The township school district is getting support from six major Ohio educational associations and unions in defending a lawsuit that has statewide implications.
The case against the district stems from an unscheduled 2002 baseball practice in which Jeffrey Dana Elston, 15 at the time, suffered a head injury when struck by a baseball.
The Ohio Supreme Court said a uniform decision is needed on whether a political subdivision's immunity from liability under Ohio law applies only to its acts and not to those of its employees.
The Ohio School Boards Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators, Ohio Association of School Business Officials, Ohio Education Association, Ohio Federation of Teachers and Ohio Association of Public School Employees have now entered the case in support of the Howland school district.
Initially Elston and his parents had filed a lawsuit against baseball coach Thomas Eschman and the school district in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. Eschman was subsequently dismissed from the case.
Judge Andrew Logan then ruled in favor of the school system without a trial, and the Elstons appealed to the 11th District Court of Appeals.
The appellate court returned the case to the common pleas court in September 2005. It ruled the case should not have been decided without a trial because the law grants immunity to "either the political subdivision or its employees, not both."
In January, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear parts of the case at the request of Howland schools.
Atty. Nicholas E. Subashi of Dayton, who filed the "friend of the court" brief on behalf of the educational associations and unions, said it's gratifying to see management and labor agree on something.
Subashi explained that he was approached by legal counsel for the Ohio School Boards Association, Atty. Nick C. Tomino of Medina, and Tomino got the groups together.
If the Supreme Court sides with the appellate court, Subashi said, it would be disastrous for Ohio schools -- "pushing school districts across the state into fiscal emergency should the courts deny them immunity."
Atty. Brian Kish of Canfield, representing the Elstons, said, "It is obvious that these five interest groups want to remind the justices, who are elected, the incredible number of people who are aware of this case and concerned about its outcome."
Kish termed the brief filed by the groups as "more of a political maneuver than it is an attempt to inform the Supreme Court of the applicable law and legal issues."
The arguments in the brief filed by OAPSE parallel those filed by the other five groups.
Subashi, meanwhile, argues that no school board can create a policy or practice to fit every situation.
"The board of education members are not in the schools on a daily basis and are unable to provide guidance on the myriad of situations facing teachers and coaches every day.
"If boards of education were denied the ability to rely upon their employees to create key policies, plan the bulk of school activities or enforce the policies of the board, public education would come to a standstill," he wrote.
"Because public school boards are generally comprised of nonteaching citizens, they must be able to rely on the judgment of well-qualified employees to ensure students receive the education and experience to which they are entitled under the Ohio Constitution," he wrote.
Subashi argues that school districts don't have the ability to raise funds to pay for legal judgments against them.
"The effect of lawsuits and judgments against the board of education would be to eliminate money designated for the good of all students," he asserted.