Members of a combined city-Dayton Public Schools task force studying school facilities tour Valerie Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 6. The tours ended before scheduled because of a legal challenge. SEAN CUDAHY/Staff

Judge to rule today on legal challenge to Dayton schools task force

A Montgomery County Common Pleas Court judge will rule today on the lawsuit brought by a Dayton resident alleging that a joint city and Dayton Public Schools task force studying school facilities violated Ohio’s Open Meetings Act.

Judge Richard Skelton told this news organization on Friday that he was reviewing evidence and testimony and planned to have a decision by today, a day before a scheduled DPS board meeting which may vote on a “right-sizing” proposal.

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The suit was brought by David Esrati, who filed it without an attorney. Esrati contends he was not allowed to attend a February bus tour of Dayton schools during which task force members went into schools until district attorneys advised them to cancel remaining stops.

On Thursday, Esrati questioned Dayton Public Schools Acting Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli and also was cross-examined by DPS attorney Brian Wildermuth during the nearly 2½-hour, wide-ranging hearing.

Esrati asked why he was not allowed to go into schools while certain media outlets were — without cameras, purportedly to protect student identities, he said. Lolli said she didn’t consider Esrati a media member.

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Esrati disagreed with that assessment. He said that regardless, “The open records law grants access to everybody. They missed that part.”

Esrati submitted for evidence emails he requested from Dayton Public Schools about the task force’s formation and videos of the day he tried to go on the bus tour plus news stories.

In responding to Thursday’s testimony by Esrati, Wildermuth filed a post-hearing brief summarizing the district’s argument.

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Wildermuth again called on Skelton to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice because Esrati admitted most of the task force’s meetings were open to the public and that “the only alleged basis for his claim that the Task Force violated the OMA, was his exclusion from the abbreviated February 6th Task Force bus tour of school buildings” and that Esrati had “no idea what occurred during the bus tour.”

Wildermuth, who has said the task force wasn’t a public body and isn’t subject to the open meetings laws, argued in his brief that the group was not a decision-maker and didn’t reach any consensus or specific recommendations.

“Plaintiff had the burden of proof,” Wildermuth wrote. “He did not carry that burden.”

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Wildermuth said Lolli is the only one designated to make recommendations to the school board.

Dayton city attorney John Musto also said he would file a post-hearing brief, but it was not available in online court records by Saturday at noon.

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