The lawsuit that resulted in a federal judge ordering a local school district to pay over a million dollars to two disabled students and their families should be a cautionary tale for our state.
The lawsuit was filed in part over the Oneida County School District 351’s failure to treat two special needs students with any common decency, and that aspect of the case is as inexcusable in regard to the actions of district employees as it is incredibly disturbing.
The cautionary tale aspect of the case regards the role a very old elementary school that severely lacks accommodations for special needs students played in District 351 now being on the hook for $1.2 million.
Malad Elementary School’s woes due to its old age are no secret. The school’s lack of heat during the winter has been covered by the local media, and on multiple occasions the Oneida County School District has asked voters to support replacing the school via a multi-million-dollar bond issue.
All of those bond votes have failed to gain voter support, leaving the district stuck with this aging school that sounds like it’s uncomfortable even for students without disabilities.
And for special needs students like the two plaintiffs in the lawsuit it’s “a medieval obstacle course.”
That’s what the students’ attorney, Aaron Bergman of Utah, said and he might have been too kind.
If you read the lawsuit he filed on the students’ behalf, it’s clear that Malad Elementary School is downright unsafe for disabled students — as evidenced by the serious injuries suffered by the two special needs students who had the misfortune of having to attend classes there.
The jury hearing the case last week at the U.S. Courthouse in Pocatello agreed.
So now District 351 is going to have to pay a lot of money to the two special needs students and their families in part because of an aging school that the community does not want to upgrade.
The Oneida County School District’s new superintendent seems confident that voters might have a change of heart considering the condition of the school has now resulted in a $1.2 million judgment against the district.
We’re not so optimistic.
The lawsuit against the Oneida County School District is something that we believe many school districts throughout the state could face. Idaho’s school infrastructure is aging and many of our rural communities are too economically beleaguered to support the tax dollars needed to build new schools or even repair existing ones.
Rural Idaho is a place with a shortage of good paying jobs, and many of our rural residents don’t have a lot of money.
Moving forward, Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho Legislature should do something to help the state’s rural school districts like Oneida County upgrade their facilities without saddling residents in those rural districts with an insurmountable tax burden — one that those residents obviously aren’t crazy about paying if recent school bond votes are any indication.
The alternative of course is to have more stories like what happened to the Oneida County School District with this lawsuit.
That district is now going to have to pay out a large sum of money in part because Malad Elementary School hasn’t been upgraded in decades.
District 351 will surely again try to get voters to approve the construction of a new elementary school via a future bond vote, the outcome of which is far from certain.
If there were another way to go about updating the state’s school infrastructure, especially in cash-strapped rural school districts, lawsuits such as the one filed against the Oneida County School District would be avoided.
That would without a doubt be better for us all — especially the special needs students forced to attend schools that can be downright dangerous for them.