Lowellville couple gets partial victory in remote learning lawsuit
YOUNGSTOWN — The parents of two Lowellville Local School District students got a partial victory in their lawsuit against the board of education over what the couple said was an illegal meeting where it was decided the district would begin fall classes online only.
The ruling from Mahoning County Court Magistrate Timothy Welsh handed down Monday agreed with the contention of Christopher and Gina Crilley that the Aug. 10 school board session adopting online classes did violate Ohio’s Open Meetings Law. However, Welsh noted that Lowellville Superintendent Eugene Thomas didn’t need the board’s approval for his online learning plan to be implemented, so the court will not move to place a hold on the plan.
A nearly daylong hearing took place Sept. 9 during which the Crilleys stated the alleged Open Meetings Law violation prevented them and other citizens from attending an Aug. 10 board meeting — the same day the district announced it was going to offer only remote learning for the first nine weeks of the school year.
The Crilleys alleged the school district violated the law by failing to “provide advance notice of the time, place and purpose” of the meeting.
Christopher Crilley testified for more than an hour Sept. 9, saying the school district regularly posted meeting notices on its Facebook page in recent months but did not do so before the Aug. 10 meeting. About 8:30 p.m. Aug. 10, the school district released information on its website explaining the district decided to offer only remote learning the first nine weeks of the school year. It also provided the information in a recorded call to parents, Crilley said.
At the previous board meeting, July 27, the board said there would be in-person and remote learning options, Crilley said.
Attorney Robert McDowall Jr., who represents the Crilleys, told the magistrate in opening statements that the notice the school district sent to The Vindicator did not meet the requirements of state law because it did not state the purpose of the meeting, which is required for special meetings.
Attorney Thomas Holmes, who represents the school district, said in opening statements that the board was required to have a policy in place that states how it will notify the public of meetings. It followed its policy by notifying The Vindicator and giving notice on the school’s website.
Holmes also told the magistrate that the Ohio law governing the reopening of schools this school year, called House Bill 164, allowed the superintendent of a school district to make decisions to switch to remote-only learning without approval of the school board.
Welsh ordered the board to adopt a policy that would allow people to determine where and when meetings will be held. He denied the board’s request that the Crilleys be ordered to pay the board’s legal fees, but awarded the couple $500 in damages, court records show.
Both sides have two weeks to file objections to the decision.