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Judge dismisses open meetings lawsuit against city, schools

Published: Thursday, July 12, 2018 @ 8:40 AM


            Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli is sworn in in March 2018 to testify in David Esrati’s open meetings lawsuit against DPS and the city of Dayton. MARK GOKAVI / STAFF
Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli is sworn in in March 2018 to testify in David Esrati’s open meetings lawsuit against DPS and the city of Dayton. MARK GOKAVI / STAFF

A judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit against Dayton’s school board and city commission over potential Open Meetings Act violations related to the groups’ school closing task force.

Local activist David Esrati, acting without an attorney, had sued the parties, claiming that a Feb. 6 task force tour of schools being considered for closure was an illegal public meeting. Outside of the task force members, only a few media representatives were allowed on the tour.

READ HERE: What actually happened on the Feb. 6 bus tour

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Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Skelton on Wednesday ruled that the task force was legally a committee of the Dayton Public Schools board of education, and thus subject to Open Meetings law.

But Skelton granted the city and school board’s motion seeking summary judgment and dismissed Esrati’s case with prejudice, writing, “There is no evidence that any deliberations occurred during the bus tour or any discussion of the prospective closing of school buildings.”

Esrati quickly responded on his website Wednesday that “you can’t prove what did or did not happen in a meeting if you can’t enter the room.”

IN MARCH: Judge says task force public, but denies injunction

Within the past two weeks, Esrati had served subpoenas on media and school officials who were part of the bus tour. But court hearings or testimony stemming from those subpoenas had not yet occurred.

Esrati stated on his website that he will appeal Skelton’s ruling.

Reporters for Cox Media Group Ohio — parent company for the Dayton Daily News and WHIO-TV — as well as Esrati, fought for access to the task force’s first scheduled meeting Jan. 9, which the group did not announce to the public. The task force responded by canceling that meeting after task force members had already arrived.

JANUARY: Task force cancels first meeting after legal questions

The task force then made its other primary meetings open to the public, but planned to limit access to the Feb. 6 bus tour. CMG Ohio sought and received access to the tours, agreeing to the school district’s request not to videotape inside schools because of privacy concerns for children but intending to report about what happened on the tours.

That Feb. 6 tour was cut short when Esrati filed for a court injunction stopping the event that morning.

DPS Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli eventually recommended, based in part on the task force’s work, the closure of Valerie Elementary, the small Innovative Learning Center and DPS’ headquarters downtown, with the potential for more closures in future years, depending on enrollment and other factors. The school board unanimously approved those moves.

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