Town Of Mills: School District Violated Law By Closing Elementary Schools
The Natrona County School District violated Wyoming law when it closed the Mills Elementary School and the Mountain View School, according to a lawsuit filed by the Town of Mills this week.
"In spite of the increase in the Mill's population the town has singularly experienced a complete deprivation of elementary schools within or near the town in the last few years," Mayor Seth Coleman said in a news release Friday.
"Natrona County School District No. 1 has treated Mills differently from any other municipality in the county and has, over a three-year period, closed and abandoned all of the elementary schools within or near the town," Coleman said. "This has operated such that it is now impossible for the residents of Mills to send their children to any nearby school, let alone expect a child in Mills to be able to walk to and from a neighborhood school."
The lawsuit, filed by the town's attorney Patrick Holscher, stated the school district identified schools for closure last fall. Those schools, including Mountain View, are "Title I Schools" that receive federal financial assistance because of high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families so they can ensure children meet state academic standards, Holscher wrote.
The Mills Town Council passed a resolution denouncing the proposed closure on Oct. 6.
The district's board of trustees voted to close four schools on Oct. 24.
In reviewing that decision, the lawsuit says the district failed to take these steps:
- It discussed the closure of Mountain View, but it did not have a public hearing as required by state law.
- It did not formulate a plan identifying alternatives to closing Mountain View and Mills elementary schools, including any future use of the buildings. "This failure constitutes a denial of due process and results in the inequitable treatment of the students from Mills as well as low income students."
- It did not file a report to the state to comply with the law about closing the schools and it cannot take an action to close or dispose of the buildings until it does that.
- It denied the town equal protection under the law by making it the only municipality in the county without immediate access to an elementary schools; by subjecting residents to unique transportation burdens for school-age children; by singling out the town for a unique deprivation of educational opportunities; and singling out schools receiving Title I benefits.
The Town of Mills wants the Natrona County District Court to declare the school district is in violation of the law, and order it to either comply with the legal requirements about closing a school or to return Mountain View to use as a school.
The town also wants the court to halt the closure of the Mountain View until the district provides another elementary school.
Because the school district lacks the legal authority to close the school, the town wants the court to order the school district take registrations for it.
Coleman said in the press release that Mills regrets it wasn't able to cause the school district to reconsider the need for elementary education in the town, and hopes the matter can be quickly resolved.
"In this context, Mills hopes, even now, that School District will reconsider its actions and keep the Mountain View Elementary School open," he said.