Judge allows Warren County ESC suit against state education agency to continue

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

A Warren County Common Pleas Court judge upheld a magistrate’s decision and allowed the Warren County Educational Service Center to move forward with its lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce about alleged violations of special education law.

Common Pleas Judge Timothy Tepe filed his decision Thursday to overrule the objections that the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce filed on Magistrate Markus Moll’s April 2 decision and preliminary injunction, seeking to dismiss the Warren County ESC’s lawsuit.

At the center of the dispute is the Wellness Center on Old Irwin Simpson Road in Deerfield Twp., a day-treatment program Warren County operates for students with intensive behavioral and mental health needs.

ODEW at first required corrective actions there after an investigation by Disability Rights Ohio alleged several violations of special education law in May 2022. However, ODEW paused those corrections after Warren County ESC raised concerns about the fairness of the previous findings.

After a second investigation, Ohio DEW ordered the Warren County ESC to provide updated professional development for staff and to work with the state agency and parents to make sure special education students had appropriate individualized education programs (IEPs) and were progressing at the correct rate. Warren County ESC sued ODEW in February, saying the state does not have the legal authority to order these changes.

The injunction stopped the corrective actions, and the magistrate also denied Disability Rights Ohio’s request to intervene in the case.

In its appeal filed April 16, the state asked Tepe to overrule the decisions Moll made April 2.

The state is objecting to the magistrate’s finding that there is “clear and convincing evidence that there is substantial likelihood that (the ESC) will prevail on the merits of declaratory judgment, mandamus, due process claims and injunctive relief.”

Also, the state objected to the magistrate’s finding that a preliminary injunction will not harm third parties (potentially students) as well as the Magistrate’s finding that the public interest would be served by issuing the preliminary injunction.

The state is also objecting to the magistrate’s finding that the court has jurisdiction over the claims in this case.

Tepe overruled each objection and adopted Moll’s decisions in full. Tepe also added “there is no just decision for delay” in this matter.

The state can appeal Tepe’s decision to the 12th District Court of Appeals in Middletown. The judge’s ruling allows Warren County ESC to continue with its litigation against ODEW.

Chad Eberly, ODEW deputy communications chief, said, “The Department does not have a comment.”

Tom Isaacs, Warren County ESC superintendent, said, “I am pleased that Judge Tepe rejected the state’s outlandish claim they have the power to do anything they want to students and school districts in Ohio without an appeals process. The DEW must respect the rights of parents to choose educational strategies best suited to their children in the IEP team process (individualized education plan).”

Isaacs also said, “We look forward to presenting our complaints against the state in a trial that will clearly show their disregard for the law and the rights of parents.”

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