AG seeks more time to respond to Act 46 challenge

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MONTPELIER — The Vermont Attorney General's office has asked Washington County Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout for additional time to respond to the legal challenge filed last month against Act 46.

The motion seeks an extension of time to resolve the Athens School District et al v. State Board of Education lawsuit, particularly the suit's request for a preliminary injunction against the implementation of the forced merger of school districts under the law. It also seeks to push back the deadline for the required organizational meetings of the merged school boards.

Assistant Attorney General David Boyd asked the court for a hearing in the second week of February to address the lawsuit's request for a preliminary injunction. The request would affect the initial organizational meetings of the newly-merged school boards which were originally set to be held by Jan. 29.

Some Brattleboro-area organizational meetings were slated to be held Wednesday. Superintendent Lyle Holiday said late Monday that the Wednesday organizational meetings were canceled and that they would be rescheduled, at the earliest, in the third week in February. The Windham Southeast Supervisory Union is not a party to the lawsuit.

"The parties have agreed that organizational meetings relating to plaintiff districts will instead be warned to begin in the third week of February," the motion stated.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Dec. 21, represents 31 different school boards, mostly from rural areas of the state. The suit alleges that the Agency of Education, as well as the Vermont Board of Education, misinterpreted its power when it came to Act 46, and also acted in an unconstitutional way.

The Windham County school boards that are party to the legal challenge include Athens, Grafton, Westminster, Windham and the Bellows Falls Union High School. Individuals from Westminster and Dummerston, including parents, students and grandparents, are also party to the Athens et al suit. A clerk at Washington Superior Court confirmed late Monday afternoon that the motion had been filed.

Earlier in the day, Inez McGillion, a Putney lawyer who is one of several lawyers working on the anti-Act 46 lawsuit, said there was a verbal agreement, but that the attorney general's office was expected to file a motion, possibly as soon as the end of the day.

According to the motion, while the normal deadline to seek an extension of time was Jan. 4, Lord noted the two sides were having "productive discussions" at the time, and the two sides agreed to delay filing a request for an extension until Monday.

"The parties' discussions were fruitful, and this motion is being filed with the consent of all parties," he wrote.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 31 school districts as well as some towns and individuals, seeks to overturn the forced merger provision of the controversial education law. It was filed on Dec. 21, 2018, about three weeks after the state Board of Education had formalized the controversial forced mergers of several school districts in rural portions of the state.

The attorney general's office's filing said it needed until Jan. 16 to simply receive all the transcript requests of "potentially relevant Board meetings," the motion stated, and that its legal research had been affected by the holiday period as well.

David Kelley, the lead counsel for the various school districts, referred all comment to McGillion, who in turn was reluctant to talk about the pending motion. Charles Merriman of Montpelier is the third attorney handling the case.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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