Board of Education again denies Washington Township move

Alyssa Pressler
  • The state school board of education voted against letting Washington Township switch school districts.
  • Currently, 300 Washington Township students reside in Dover School District.
  • In 2012, a petition to move to Northern York County School District was started.

Several hundred Washington Township students will stay in Dover Area School District and not move to Northern York County School District after a second vote by the Pennsylvania Board of Education on Thursday afternoon.

Vicki Mills, left, tearfully hugs Sara Rothrock, right, upon hearing the Pennsylvania State Board of Education's decision on the Washington Township application to move from Dover Area School District to Northern Area School District on Thursday, March 9, 2017. Both are parents of students in Dover Area School District and wanted them to stay in the district.

For several hours, the school board heard arguments from each district as well as the Washington Township Independent School District, the Washington Township Education Coalition, students and the parent group Keep Our Kids in Dover Schools. After an executive session and a public deliberation period, the board voted 14-4 to again deny the application.

The school board was required to reconsider the application for Washington Township to move after Commonwealth Court kicked the decision back to the board in January. The state board made its original decision in 2015, but the court found the board's review of the application was too broad.

State to reconsider residents' request to leave Dover Area district

The court ordered the board to revisit the decision, but to only determine whether moving Washington Township to a new district would result in a reorganization of a school district that violates board standards, according to the opinion written by Judge P. Kevin Brobson.

These standards include future population growth, the capability of school district buildings to accommodate the students, topography and where Washington Township residents felt their community was, among others.

In reaching its previous decision, the board also had considered the educational merit of the move, which was beyond its scope.

This caused confusion among state board members as they reconsidered the case Thursday. Several members debated whether or not the move would affect either school district's comprehensive education programming, another standard they needed to consider, but this at times overlapped with discussion on educational merit, moving beyond their scope.

Board member Colleen Sheehan was concerned that denying the application would again be an example of the board overstepping its boundaries.

"This is a lesson to us, the board, of humility," she said in her argument to approve the application.

The Washington Township Independent School District and the Washington Township Education Coalition now have the opportunity to call for a hearing about the decision. The attorney for the petitioners, Daniel Fennick, tried to ask for a hearing before the end of the meeting, but board Chairman Larry Wittig adjourned before he could do so.

After the adjournment, those wishing to keep Washington Township in Dover School District cheered and began hugging one another.

"I'm overjoyed," said Dover freshman Margaret Mailey, who spoke to the board during its public comment section. "I'm happy they made the right decision."

Ralph McGregor, the president of the Washington Township Education Coalition, did not share in Margaret's joy. He also addressed the board, but he argued they should accept the application.

"I think the decision was a second irresponsible decision by this board," McGregor said. "The statues and the commands of the court were not recognized."

The petitioners to move to Northern School District have cited shorter commute times and better education quality in the district as the reason for their yearslong fight. In 2014, Washington Township was designated as an independent school district for the sole purpose of transferring to Northern, according to the district's website.

"This has been a tough go for a lot of people," Sheehan said. "This has gone on so long — too long — that it's created fissures in the community."