Pa. Supreme Court upholds secession from Dover Area School District

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a decision Wednesday from lower courts to allow Washington Township to secede from Dover Area School District and join Northern York County School District. 

The Supreme Court denied a request from Dover officials to appeal the decision. In June, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of the proponents for secession.

The high court's ruling ends a long court battle that began in 2012. 

Now, about 220 Dover students will transfer to schools in Northern York County as early as this fall, according to a statement from Dover Area School District. The district stands to lose about $2.3 million from the transfer, along with losses of programs or staff, or needed curriculum modification, according to court filings. 

More:Court: Washington Twp. can ditch Dover Area district

More:Dover Area school board to ask Pa. Supreme Court to keep Washington Twp. in district

A coalition of Washington Township residents petitioned in 2012 to transfer its students to the Northern York County School District. The coalition argued that Northern York County offered better education and lower property taxes.

Dover's closest school to Washington Township, Kralltown Elementary School, closed in 2011, leading the coalition to also argue that Northern York County schools made more sense for their families. 

The state Board of Education denied the township's request three times — in 2015, 2017 and 2019. But in June 2020, Commonwealth Judge Kevin Brobson reversed the 2019 state board's decision, ruling that the board was in error when it denied the request. 

"The Board improperly pitted one district's existing curriculum and offerings against the other's and made inconvenience and disruption to Dover SD the paramount focus of its legal analysis," Brobson said. 

Brobson said the state board did not interpret its standards correctly, including its determination that the transfer would not meet educational needs for affected students.

Dover officials submitted a petition later in June to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn the decision, with support from dozens of district families.

"It's not right that a petition signed eight years ago should determine the fate of our children today," said township resident Lydia Nailor during the June board meeting to approve the petition. 

Officials from Dover and Northern York County school districts released statements following the Supreme Court's decision Wednesday. Both districts said they would collaborate with each other to facilitate the transfer. 

"The Dover Area School District is committed to work extremely hard to do what is in the best interest of all of the (district's) families and students," Dover's statement read.

Dover Superintendent Tracy Krum declined further comment.