Johnstown Independent

Transportation to nonpublic schools

Lawsuit dismissed over Northridge busing

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Licking County Common Pleas Judge Tom Marcelain has dismissed a lawsuit against the Northridge Local School District.

Residents whose children attend nonpublic schools had sued to force the district to retime a bus route to Liberty Christian Academy, claiming the routes do not take longer than 30 minutes.

Northridge will not transport students to Liberty Christian, Gahanna Christian or St. Matthew schools.

Northridge Treasurer Britt Lewis said previously that the Ohio Department of Education officially agreed that the timed runs proved it takes longer than 30 minutes to transport students to each of the three nonpublic schools, meaning that under state law, Northridge is not obligated to transport students who live within the district to those schools.

Resident Bill Jones, whose children attend Liberty Christian, filed the suit, maintaining that Petermann Transportation, with which Northridge contracts for bus service, manipulated the timed routes to make sure they were at least slightly more than 30 minutes in an effort to save the time and expense of transporting children to nonpublic schools, even though the parents of those children are paying taxes like the rest of the district.

"The Northridge Local School District is pleased with the decision of the Licking County Court of Common Pleas (in Jones, et al., versus the Northridge Local School District), which confirms the district's complete compliance with all applicable laws and (Ohio Department of Education) rules," Lewis said. "The issuance of the judgment marked the end of the district's agreement to transport students attending the schools involved in the litigation. The district does not expect to resume those routes without an exceptional change in circumstances."

Jones' attorney, Edward Ostrowski, explained the dismissal.

"(Marcelain) determined that plaintiffs did not have a legal right to have another timing run conducted and so dismissed the case," Ostrowski said. "While I think there certainly was room for him to rule in favor of my clients, I understand his logic."

Ostrowski said the ODE timing-run procedure is informal guidance, not law or administrative rule enforceable by a court of law.

"Unfortunately, this means there is no mechanism for appeal of a local or ODE timing run, even where, as in this case, aspects of the timing run are hotly disputed," he said. "Of course, Northridge always has the authority to decide to transport students to schools that are beyond the 30-minute threshold. The law does not bar such transportation; it makes it discretionary.

"Given that they have refused thus far, even after the initiation of litigation, I have zero expectation that a majority of current board members would vote to continue transportation," he said.

Ostrowski said he believes Northridge would continue to defend the decision to stop transportation to those schools on the basis of the expense.

"I think it is ludicrous, however, for the district to say that it costs up to $27,000 per year per student to transport to these schools," he said.

Jones said the district has won the battle, but the parents would win the war.

"The lack of true leaders and leadership at Northridge schools, combined with their disrespect for taxpaying citizens who live, work and worship in the district, will cost them dearly," Jones said. "They won their short-term rigged busing battle against Christian and Catholic families, but taxpayers will win the long-term war to follow."

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