State board again says Washington Twp. must stay in Dover schools

Northern York County School District's Wellsville Elementary School

The state Board of Education once again denied a request for Washington Township residents to transfer school districts — and for some residents, it's a huge relief.

"From the parents and students side, we’re elated that we’re staying in Dover," said Holly Feeser, a member of Keep Us in Dover Schools.

The group — which includes parents, relatives, township residents and supporters from Dover Township and borough — had been outspoken at previous hearings about the harm that could come from about 250 township students making the switch from Dover Area School District to Northern York County School District.

And on Jan. 10, education board chair Karen Farmer White denied the change for the Washington Township Independent School District — which was created to prepare for the transfer — based on a majority board vote. 

Reasons for denial: The WTISD had to meet a majority of the standards set in Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the board's decision to weigh in favor of the transfer.

Although the board agreed that both districts would still be able to provide a comprehensive education following the transfer, the move failed to meet standards involving available educational opportunities and the ability to utilize buildings without unnecessary construction.

For example, some programs are not offered at Northern, such as Dover's geo-spatial information program, and since class sizes would rise above district policy, Northern would likely be forced to renovate its middle school.

Background: The denial comes after previous rejections in 2015 and 2017, and it points to a losing battle that goes back even further.

Before becoming the WTISD, the Washington Township Education Coalition filed a petition with the York County Court of Common Pleas in July 2012, seeking the transfer based on a better education, shorter commute and lower taxes at Northern.

More:Dover residents rebuke plan for new high school at public hearing

After the state board's 2015 denial, a judge ruled it had been too broad in its review and ordered that it reconsider its vote — but the board again rejected the transfer in 2017.

Members of Keep Us In Dover Schools (KIDS) embraces Wednesday morning in Harrisburg after the committee concludes its meeting in which it announced it would recommend to disapprove of Washington Township Independent School District's petition to transfer from Dover to Northern York school district.

More:State cites reasons for rejecting Washington Township district switch

"When this first started, my daughter was a second-grader, and now she’s in high school," Feeser said, noting the process has dragged on for years. 

Not over: But for Daniel Fennick, an attorney for the WTISD, it's far from over.

He claims the board again operated unfairly — modifying the standards to make them more specific and difficult to meet.

"We think the state board just doesn’t want this to happen," he said.

If an agency refuses to hear a case in the proper way, there are cases that say the decision can be reversed, Fennick said, and to that end, he's already begun preparing for an appeal to the Commonwealth Court.