Judge dismisses most claims by Windham parents Allegations against state on elementary school to continue

By Ethan Weinstein
©2024 VT Digger

Parents in the tiny Windham School District, who sought through a lawsuit to have the district pay tuition to send students elsewhere, have had a majority of their claims dismissed.

But Windham Superior Court Judge David Barra allowed a central part of the suit to continue on allegations that Windham Elementary School, which while operating last spring had fewer than 20 students, failed to meet the state’s educational quality standards.

“The only claim that remains is … for deprivation of the constitutional right to an education under the Education Clause due to Defendants’ failure to provide ‘quality basic education’ as defined by Vermont’s Educational Quality Standards,” Barra wrote in a filing this week.

He specified that the claim would advance only against the state. The town of Windham and Windham Central Supervisory Union, which had been named as defendants in dismissed claims, were not deemed defendants in the remaining claim.

The parents’ lawsuit alleges that Windham Elementary’s small size and limited staffing prevented students from receiving a quality education. They had also argued that the district’s refusal to pay tuition for their children to attend school elsewhere prevented them from receiving a quality education, a claim the judge rejected.

After the lawsuit was first filed in August, the Windham school board voted to temporarily close its elementary school and send students to Townshend Elementary, roughly 10 miles away. Families filing the lawsuit had wanted the district to pay for their kids to attend the Mountain School at Winhall.

Recent staffing challenges prompted this year’s closure, administrators have said. But the school’s fate has been under debate for years.

Under Vermont statute, the state secretary of education is responsible for ensuring that schools are providing “substantially equal” educational opportunities. To do this, the secretary is empowered to rearrange districts, close a school, or take “administrative control” of a school.

Deborah Bucknam, the parents’ attorney, called the judge’s decision a “major win,” acknowledging disappointment that all other claims had been dismissed.

As of Friday, the next hearing in the case had not been scheduled, according to the docket.

Windham school district voters will later this year consider whether to close their elementary school and pay to send elementary students to the public and private schools of their choice next year.

The Chester Telegraph republished this article with permission.

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