State to reconsider residents' request to leave Dover Area district

Alyssa Pressler
  • The state Board of Education will need to revisit the idea of Washington Township moving to Northern School District.
  • Commonwealth Court judges ruled on Jan. 20 that the state board will need to revisit the application.
  • In 2015, the board had decided against the move from Dover Area School District.

The Pennsylvania Board of Education will need to reconsider an application for Washington Township to move from Dover Area School District to Northern York County School District.

On Jan. 20, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision on a petition from the Washington Township Independent School District to change school districts. The courts kicked the decision back to the state board, which will need to revisit the issue at its next meeting.

Facilities, safety and technology manager David Nelson shows where the bleachers extend to, in proximity to the basketball court, in the un-air-conditioned gym at Dover Area Intermediate School in Dover, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The opinion, written by Judge P. Kevin Brobson, ordered that the final decision of the Board of Education be vacated and the matter remanded to the board.

The opinion said the state board, when it made its decision in 2015 to not allow the move, was operating under the impression that its review of the matter was broad, according to the document. The board can only determine whether moving Washington Township to a new district would result in a reorganization of a school district that violates board standards.

In its 2015 decision, the board weighed in on the educational merit of the possible move, which falls under the state education secretary and not under the state Board of Education, the opinion states.

According to past Dispatch reporting, the education secretary agreed in 2015 the transfer would be rewarding educationally for Washington Township students.

"We’re very pleased with (the court's decision)," said Daniel Fennick, the attorney representing Washington Township Independent School District. "We felt the state board had gone beyond what they were supposed to do, and the Commonwealth Court agreed."

The board must vote to approve or disapprove the petition again with the narrower scope in mind. The board will have to examine the proposed organizational plan and determine whether it violates the board's standards for such a decision. Fennick believes the new scope will result in approval of the move.

If the move is approved, the Council of Basic Education will need to revise the school district lines. If the Board of Education votes to disapprove the petition again, it must give its reasons for doing so, which might include a meeting for the Washington Township Independent School District.

Nicole Reigelman, press secretary and communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said the department, which includes the state Board of Education, is still reviewing the court's decision and declined to comment.

Background: The fight to move Washington Township students to a different district began in 2012 with the creation of a petition. The petition followed the closing of Kralltown Elementary School, which had served Washington Township students.

The Washington Township Education Coalition, the organization that has fought for the move, has cited shorter commute times and better education quality in the Northern York County School District as the reason for the petition.

In 2014, Washington Township was designated as an independent school district for the sole purpose of a transfer to Northern, according to the district's website.

State committee recommends against Washington Twp.'s petition to leave Dover Area School District

In 2015, the committee tasked with considering the petition recommended against the move, and the state Board of Education followed the recommendation.

The new court decision comes as Dover Area School District works with architects to create plans that could result in a new school in the district. The district has cited overcrowding in its intermediate school as one of the reasons for exploring the possibility of building a new school.

Dover Area district explores new high school

If Washington Township moves to Northern, hundreds of students would be leaving the Dover Area School District, which Fennick said would be helpful for the district.

"There’s a benefit to putting a couple hundred kids in Northern School District," he said. "It gives (Dover) a little breathing room to do some planning,"

Dover Area Superintendent Ken Cherry did not respond to a request for comment.