A ruling by the state Department of Education this month means residents in Washington Township will have a chance to convince a York County judge they should be allowed to leave the Dover Area School District.
The department ruled July 2 that the township residents' petition to leave the district, organized by the Washington Township Education Coalition, has "educational merit."
With that ruling, the case will move on to the York County Court of Common Pleas for further review.
The decision validates the coalition's argument that students in Washington Township would receive a better education in the Northern York School District than by staying in Dover, said Ralph McGregor, spokesman for the coalition.
"It means that I think we've proven our point," he said. "It verified the initial reasons that we started with."
Petition: McGregor and other members of the coalition made the argument to switch to Northern for several reasons, citing higher test scores in the neighboring district and additional class offerings.
Geography also plays a factor, said Joe Sieber, president of the coalition.
If the residents were to move to the Northern district, all elementary students would be closer to their designated schools than if they continue to attend Dover, Sieber said.
The report from the education department also said many township residents would be closer to Northern's secondary schools, as compared to their current commute to Dover schools.
Dover no longer has a school building in Washington Township after closing Kralltown Elementary School in 2011, one of the factors in starting the petition process.
Ruling: About 320 students live in Washington Township, according to court documents.
The ruling was made by Rita Perez, the acting deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education. Based on comparing test scores and class offerings, among other factors, Perez wrote the proposed transfer would have a "positive educational impact" on the students living in Washington Township.
The coalition collected signatures of about 74 percent of Washington Township residents in favor of moving districts, Sieber said.
But after the Dover Area School District posted a notice about the ruling on its website, Superintendent Ken Cherry heard from several parents in the township who want to keep their children in Dover, he said.
Cherry said the education department's ruling included school data, but not financial data or other factors. That will be coming in the upcoming deliberations in court and before the state Board of Education, which makes the final decision about whether the township can change districts.
What's next: The board typically conducts at least one public hearing about the change, according to the process laid out by the education department.
Cherry said the district is looking forward to making its case in court and hearing from residents at a hearing.
"This impacts the fabric of the district," he said.
There is no set timeline for the court proceedings or a decision by the board of education, but Sieber said the information given in Perez's ruling should speed up the court process.
"It should make the judge's decision easy," he said.
Students living in the township will still attend Dover schools for the 2014-15 school year, Cherry confirmed, saying parents who were concerned were unclear about what happened next.
"They see something like this and they think it's happening tomorrow," he said. "We will still continue educating kids."
— Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.