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Liberty schools superintendent issues letter on open enrollment

Monday, April 30, 2018

LIBERTY — Joseph Nohra, Liberty superintendent, released an open letter to Liberty students, staff and community Monday regarding a resolution passed a week ago stating Liberty school board will not grant consent to white students who request to enroll in Girard City Schools.

In the letter, Nohra said the board plans to meet with the Trumbull county Chapter of the NAACP for an open discussion to clarify its position.

Nohra said the resolution was passed to allow the board “to rely on state law to protect our school district from overzealous open enrollment practices.” He noted the board has unsuccessfully tried to resolve the issue with Girard’s school board through meetings.

“The Girard City Schools is accepting a large number of Liberty students through open enrollment. If this continues at its current rate, our data shows the Liberty Local School District could become a segregated school system,” Nohra wrote.

Nohra has said about 250 students leave the school district each year, and about 100 of those students go to Girard schools.

Data from the Ohio Department of Education shows in fiscal year 2017, there were about 50 percent white students and 50 percent minority students in the school district.

Nohra explained section 3313.98 of the Ohio Revised Code that the board cited when they passed the resolution: “The law allows a school board to object to the enrollment of its students into another district under this division, any adjacent or other district shall refuse to enroll such resident students unless tuition is paid or accepted tuition-free for the students,” he said.

“Liberty Local Schools did not write the law. Our goal is not to punish any student who lives in our community by blocking his or her enrollment in to another district.”

Nohra contends the board sees segregation as a plausible threat to the students and the community.

School board member David Malone wrote a Letter to the Editor in Sunday’s The Vindicator, and agreed the financial status of the schools and the risk of becoming segregated was the motive for the resolution. He noted the school didn’t have to make the resolution since the decision is protected under state code, but the board wanted to be transparent with their decision.

Malone wrote, “Regarding our resolution, perhaps it was premature, perhaps reactive, and perhaps it was misleading to those who did not actually read the resolution in whole, but in actuality it was not required by the board to take action to restrict native students from leaving the district when it would affect the appropriate racial balance.”

Nohra's complete letter:

To All Liberty Schools Parents, Staff, Students and Stakeholders,

As you may be aware, there have been recent news reports - many of which contain misrepresentations - about Liberty’s efforts to retain students. Our district has attracted media attention because of the stand we are taking against what we believe is becoming a trend toward segregating students. This is weakening our efforts that have taken place to promote diversity in our school district, which is part of a diversified community.

I realize I should have done a better job clarifying, on behalf of our school board, our intentions in passing this measure. We are working to circulate a chain of accurate information and have plans to meet with the Trumbull County Chapter of the NAACP on Monday for an open discussion to clarify our position.

At my recommendation, the Liberty School Board of Education on April 24, 2018, adopted a resolution allowing our board to rely on state law to protect our school district from overzealous open enrollment practices. This move came after we had already, albeit unsuccessfully, tried using other means to resolve this matter – including meeting with and engaging in ongoing discussions with Girard City Schools.

The Girard City Schools is accepting a large number of Liberty students through open enrollment. If this continues at its current rate, our data shows the Liberty Local School District could become a segregated school system. Our numbers already indicate racial imbalances occurring in some grade levels.

The law we are citing is ORC 3313.98:

“No Board of Education may adopt a policy discouraging or prohibiting its native students from applying to enroll in the schools of an adjacent or any other district that has adopted a policy permitting such enrollment except that: (a) district may object to the enrollment of a native student in an adjacent or other district in order to maintain an appropriate racial balance. (b) the Board of Education of the district receiving funds may adopt a resolution objecting to their movement of its native students in adjacent or other districts at least 10% of its students are included in the determination of the United States Secretary of Education made under section 20 U.S.C.A.”

Liberty Local Schools meets this determination.

ORC is the letter of Ohio law governing open enrollment and that allows school choice. Just as ORC creates this system, it also stipulates a tipping mechanism in which excessive open enrollment can lead to a racial imbalance in a public school district and unfairly deplete financial resources, which serve the school community.

The law allows a school board to object to the enrollment of its students into another district under this division, any adjacent or other district shall refuse to enroll such resident students and unless tuition is paid (or accepted tuition free) for the students in accordance with section 3313.98 of the revised code.

Liberty Local Schools did not write the law. Our goal is not to punish any student who lives in our community by blocking his or her enrollment into another district. However, we are willing to work within the structure of the law and the provisions it provides to take a stand against segregation, which we see as a plausible threat to the wellbeing of our students and community.

Liberty Local Schools is one of the best examples of a diversified community – racially, ethnically, socioeconomically – with individuals willing to stand unified against division. Our school board, administrative team led by me, and our entire staff respect, love and appreciate serving all of our students regardless of their race or socioeconomic backgrounds.

Educationally,

Joseph Nohra, Superintendent