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Judge affirms Lowellville schools meeting violation

District ordered to pay $500 court costs

YOUNGSTOWN — Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court has affirmed and adopted the decision of his magistrate regarding an Ohio Open Meetings Act violation by Lowellville Board of Education.

Krichbaum’s magistrate, Timothy Welsh, ruled Sept. 21 that the school board violated the act by not properly notifying the public of the purpose of the special meeting Aug. 10, 2020, at which the board of education voted to switch to remote-only learning for the first nine weeks of the school year.

The ruling cited the testimony during a hearing of Lowellville Treasurer Bryan Schiraldi, who said the school district’s rule for notifying the public included notification of the meeting at least 24 hours in advance, giving the time, place and purpose of the meeting to all parties who had requested such notification.

According to the ruling, Schiraldi testified that the board’s practice was to post the agenda of special meetings at least 48 hours in advance on the school’s web site and notify the newspaper, adding: “It is then incumbent upon the newspaper to consult the district’s web site to determine the ‘purpose’ of the special meeting.” The notice The Vindicator received did not contain the reason for the meeting.

The magistrate found that the board violated the Open Meetings act by not notifying the news media of the purpose of Aug. 10, 2020, meeting.

The ruling found the board’s methods of notifying the public to be “subject to uncertainty and inconsistent application, which the (Ohio Legislature) intended to avoid.”

Therefore, the ruling ordered the school board to “formulate, adopt and abide by a rule consisting with (Ohio law) whereby any person may determine the time and place of all regularly scheduled meetings and the time, place and purpose of all special meetings.”

Welsh’s ruling stated, however, that he was not going to void the actions of the board in approving a remote-only learning plan at the Aug. 10, 2020, meeting because the vote was not necessary.

Instead, Superintendent Eugene Thomas had “unfettered discretion to adopt a remote learning plan without any board approval whatsoever,” the ruling states.

The ruling ordered the school district to pay $500 to the couple who filed the legal action, Christopher and Gina Crilley.

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