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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Another Lawsuit: Group Of School Districts Files Court Appeal Over Act 46

In this file photo, Dummerston School Board Chairwoman Kristina Naylor talks about the school's alternative governance plan in opposition to merging with a nearby district. Naylor stands in front of a poster hanging up and points to it.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
VPR File
In this file photo, Dummerston School Board Chairwoman Kristina Naylor talks about the school's alternative governance plan in opposition to merging with a nearby district. Dummerston is one of the school districts filing an appeal of Act 46

A group of school districts filed a legal appeal Thursday challenging Act 46, the state’s school district consolidation law.

This is the second legal challenge this month to the Act 46 forced mergers; The Elmore-Morristown Unified Union School District and the Stowe School District have already filed suit.

This latest appeal by the group of school districts names the State Board of Education, the Agency of Education and the secretary of education, and it challenges the state’s authority to forcibly merge 45 school boards under Act 46.

The group says the State Board of Education’s decision to forcibly merge districts, sometimes against the wishes of local voters, is unconstitutional.

In a press release announcing the lawsuit sent out Thursday morning, attorney Charles Merriman stated:

“Vermont is justifiably proud of it (sic) history as a society shaped by the vote and made functional by robust, civic participation. Somewhere along the line, the good—but unelected—people on the State Board of Education lost sight of our shared history when they misinterpreted Act 46 as mandating school consolidations over the express, reasoned opposition of voters. If left uncorrected, the Board’s decision will have the depressing effect of dampening civic participation in favor of top-heavy bureaucratic structures wholly alien to our democratic traditions.”

In the appeal, the group argues that the State Board’s decision to force mergers goes against part of the wording in Act 46 which allows districts to create alternative structures.

“If upheld, the Board’s ‘casual dismissal of statute’ will have lasting impacts for decades, perhaps even centuries, to come,” the appeal states. “It is already tearing communities apart and pitting towns against each other. It is harming our students, our schools, the very fabric of rural life, the democratic process, checks and balances, and the foundational notion that governance requires consent of the governed.”

The school districts were also joined by seven selectboards, one planning commission and also some individual taxpayers, parents and students.

The group also says it will ask for an injunction and stay to halt the merger process, which is supposed to be completed before July 1, 2019.

The towns and school districts that signed on to the appeal include:

  • Athens School District
  • Barnard School District
  • Barnard Select Board
  • Bellows Falls Union High School
  • Berlin School District
  • Brighton School District
  • Brownington Select Board
  • Calais School District
  • Calais Select Board
  • Charleston School District
  • Coventry School District
  • Craftsbury School District
  • Dummerston School District
  • Franklin School District
  • Franklin Select Board
  • Glover School District
  • Grafton School District
  • Greensboro School District
  • Greensboro Select Board
  • Highgate School District
  • Irasburg Planning Commission
  • Irasburg School District
  • Irasburg Select Board
  • Jay/Westfield School District
  • Lakeview Union School District
  • Lowell School District
  • Middlesex School District
  • Montgomery School District
  • Montgomery Select Board
  • Newbury School District
  • Newport Town School District
  • Richford School District
  • Sheldon School District
  • Stannard School District
  • Troy School District
  • Westminster School District
  • Windham School District
  • Worcester School District

Update 1:37 p.m. The post and headline were updated after the suit was filed.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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