The Ohio Department of Education in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
Plaintiffs are arguing that the temporary restraining order in the lawsuit that seeks to block a transfer of power over Ohio K-12 education should have stopped that transfer from starting.
After an all-day preliminary injunction hearing on Monday, Franklin County Magistrate Jennifer Hunt ruled that the temporary restraining order blocking lawmakers’ attempts to overhaul Ohio’s K-12 education system remains in effect until the court makes a decision on the case, which must happen by Wednesday at noon. UPDATE: The judge in the case has moved the deadline from Wednesday to Oct. 20.
Shortly after Monday’s hearing, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine held a virtual press conference and said the court order has caused “a potential for chaos” and decided to move forward with changing Ohio’s education department regardless.
Plaintiffs are saying this move goes against the court’s restraining order.
“That temporary restraining order meant that there was to be no changes to the state of public education in Ohio until further notice,” Skye Perryman, President and CEO of Democracy Forward, said Tuesday during a virtual press conference.
“The court was very clear on the record yesterday that in Ohio there should be no changes to the governance structure of the education system. That the State Board of Education, which is democratically elected and has been the system in Ohio for decades, would remain in place while the court considered the plaintiffs motion.”
As of Tuesday, the Ohio Department of Education ceased to exist and is now the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce. The changes were set to happen on Tuesday since that marks 90 days since DeWine signed the state’s operating budget into law, where lawmakers included the K-12 education overhaul.
“Questions such as who will send out the checks that go to our public schools across the state of Ohio, who will make the determination about eligibility for school choice,” DeWine said. “I can not let this situation fester. I can’t let this chaos … actually happen.”
The law included in the state budget creates a cabinet-level director position, puts the department under the governor’s office, and limits the State Board of Education’s power to teacher disciplinary and licensure cases and territory disputes. Under this law, the board of education would no longer have various administrative powers or control over curriculum standards.
When the Ohio Capital Journal reached out to the state education department, spokesperson Lacey Snoke said “we are unable to comment.”
Because the temporary restraining prevents DeWine from picking someone for the cabinet-level director position, Interim Superintendent Chris Woolard is in charge of the department.
“No order should stand in the way,” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said during Monday’s press conference. “We need a leader of this new agency, we need to give Gov. DeWine the authority to pick that new leader because Ohio needs leadership in this space.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed a motion Monday night to clarify the temporary restraining order.
“This is not a good-faith reading of the Order,” the motion reads. “In the interest of avoiding harm to students, teachers, parents, school boards, state employees, and citizens across Ohio, Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court intervene before Defendants put the executive branch of Ohio into direct conflict with the judicial branch.”
The judge has given both parties until noon Wednesday to submit additional briefs before issuing a ruling on the preliminary injunction.
“What is clear is that Gov. DeWine made clear (Monday) that he didn’t want to do anything to preserve public education in Ohio as it has been preserved for decades,” Perryman said. “In our view, if Gov. DeWine removed any power from the State Board of Education while this matter was pending before the court is able to rule in the preliminary injunction, then we believe the governor would be held in contempt of court.”
In an attempt to block the overhaul of K-12 education, seven members of the Ohio State Board of Education filed a lawsuit against DeWine on Sept. 19 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. Franklin County Judge Karen Held Phipps issued the temporary restraining order Sept. 21.
The lawsuit complaint was amended on Sunday and now Christina Collins, Michelle Newman, Stephanie Eichenberg, and the Toledo Public School Board are the plaintiffs in the case.
Collins and Newman are parents of Ohio public school students and are also on the State Board of Education. Eichenberg is a former Toledo Public School Board president and is a parent of two public school students. The plaintiffs are being represented by Democracy Forward and Ulmer & Berne LLP.
“I am a parent and I want to be able to have a say in my child’s education,” Newman said Tuesday during a virtual press conference. “The changes that have moved forward, which I believe are unconstitutional and illegal, remove the voice of parents when it comes to public education.”
Collins, Eichenberg and Toledo Public School Board President Shenna Barnes testified as plaintiffs during the hearing. Newman, who was present at Monday’s hearing, was not called to testify.
“Maintaining the status quo of a fully or a partially elected state board of education allows those voices to continue to be at the table and give important feedback when it comes to making education policy,” Newman said.
These changes to the Ohio Department of Education and State Board of Education started out as Senate Bill 1, which Sen. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, introduced in January. The Senate added SB 1 to the state budget in June, which DeWine signed into law in July.
The plaintiffs are asking to grant a permanent relief to stop this from going into effect, remove this legislation from the state budget, and strike it void.
Senate Minority Leader Nickie J. Antonio, D-Lakewood, expressed her disappointment in the sweeping education changes moving forward while the temporary restraining order is in place.
“The decision to ignore the authority of the court is a dangerous precedent to set at a time when public trust in the institution of government is at an all-time low,” Antonio said in a statement. “Ohio’s students and families deserve an organized and effective department and state board. Until the court decides how to proceed, the state should not interfere.”
While this is worked out in a court of law, educators are continuing to do their jobs and “drown out the political noise,” Melissa Cropper, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.
This story has been corrected to say Michelle Newman was present at Monday’s hearing.
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