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School board called 'schizophrenic'

The Salt Lake City Board of Education was "schizophrenic" and acted in violation and in ignorance of its own policies when it voted to close two local elementary schools in the summer of 2001, says an attorney for families of the school communities who filed a lawsuit against the board.

The families in January filed a preliminary injunction seeking to stop the school board from taking steps to close Rosslyn Heights and Lowell elementaries before their case can be heard this summer. That motion was heard Friday in 3rd District Court for some six hours before a full courtroom.

While the board members were acting without malice, they violated the law when voting to close the two schools, attorney Mark Morris said.

He shared a number of depositions taken from board members Cliff Higbee, Janice Clemmer and then-board president Joel Briscoe in which they admitted they did not have knowledge of a 1973 policy on school closures.

"None of these board members were aware they had a written policy on school closure," Morris said.

Morris also argued the board members did not follow a shared governance policy when they failed to include public input in the school closure process until late in the game.

"They made decisions to close schools, they made decisions to close three schools, then they brought in shared governance," he said. "Prior to their decision to close three schools, you have zero public input."

Morris also disputed the board's reasons for closing the schools, including the board's claim of declining enrollment and a financial need.

Attorney John Robson, who represents the district, argued the change in the total number of students in the district was not as significant a factor as where the students resided, citing an increasing population on the west side of the valley.

He also argued the board did consider and accept public input early in the process and was methodical in its decision to close the schools.

Many people may question, disagree with and criticize the board's decision, but "can you say that what they did . . . was arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion? I don't think you can say that," Robson said. "This was something done with considerable debate and discussion."

He said board members in depositions may not have said they recalled looking at some board policies, but that does not mean they violated the policies. He also argued a former governing school board can't bind a current school board concerning policies.

Judge Sandra Peuler said she expects to make a decision on the motion in about 30 days. The school district's motion to have the case dismissed will be heard May 6 at 10 a.m., and the seven-day trial of the lawsuit is scheduled to begin June 18 at 10 a.m.