This week the community group 834 Voice asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to review an Appeals Court decision that allowed the Stillwater Area School District to move forward with closure of three elementary schools. The petition to review was rejected on a technicality — the petition document was not attached to the filing. Attorney for 834 Voice Fritz Knaak said he will resubmit the petition to the Supreme Court.
"The petition was rejected due to technical reasons and not because of its merit," Knaak said in an interview May 4.
According to Rule 117 of the Minnesota Appellate Procedure, any party seeking review of a decision by the Appeals Court shall submit a petition within 30 days of the Appeals Court decision. In the case of 834 Voice v. ISD 834, the appeals court submitted its decision on April 3. On May 4, the docket notation stated that the petition to review was rejected because there was not a petition attached to the court filing.
"The case has been rejected," said Kyle Christopherson, communications specialist for the Minnesota Judicial Branch. "The attorney has the option to make a motion to the Supreme Court to accept a late petition."
Christopherson said a motion to accept a late petition is uncommon.
On May 4, Knaak said he was confident the court would accept the motion for a the late petition.
"We are resubmitting it," Knaak said. "I think we will get it in."
Should the court accept the motion, petitions are generally considered with 60 days of filing.
834 Voice offers to end legal action
834 Voice offered to end all legal action against the Stillwater Area School District May 1. In exchange, the group wanted the school board to delay its plans to close Withrow and Oak Park elementary schools for two years.
Attorney for 834 Voice Fritz Knaak sent a letter to Peter Mikhail, the district’s attorney, with a final settlement proposal to end all legal action by 834 Voice against the school district — including an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
"My clients are sensitive to the fact that across the district, students and families will feel the impact of so many moving pieces," Knaak wrote. "Certainly, planning for the fall without the anxiety of these legal conflicts provides needed predictability and certainty."
834 Voice proposed that the district delay closure of the Withrow and Oak Park elementary schools for two school years — the 2017-2018 school year and the 2018-2019 school year — with the current alternative and open enrollment option. Marine Elementary School was not included in the proposal. A charter school is scheduled to open in the area of Marine on St. Croix next school year, and the city council has expressed its desire to purchase the elementary school building.
834 Voice also asked that the taxation for the district’s legal costs be dropped — meaning that the district would not seek legal action to charge 834 Voice for expenses involved in defending the lawsuit.
Currently, the district and 834 Voice are involved in two lawsuits. In the first lawsuit, 834 Voice brought a petition for writ of certiorari before the Minnesota Court of Appeals in regard to the school board’s March 3, 2016, vote to close Withrow, Marine and Oak Park elementary schools. On April 3, 2017, the court upheld the school board’s decision to close the three schools. This is the case 834 Voice wants the Supreme Court to review.
The other case was brought to the district court, and the most recent action in the case was on March 20, when Judge Daniel O’Fallon dismissed four claims against Stillwater Area Public Schools. The two remaining claims are scheduled to continue to a civil trial scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 23.
In his May 1 letter, Knaak wrote that the district could give a response the next day.
"If you can get back to me with a response on this when we meet for the hearing on Tuesday, that would be soon enough," Knaak wrote.
The school district and 834 Voice met in district court for a motion hearing at 10 a.m. May 2.
"Today, we have filed a petition to the MN Supreme Court to appeal the recent decision of the Court of Appeals," 834 Voice wrote in a statement on its Facebook page May 3. "Specifically, we are asking the Court to clarify the meaning of substantial evidence and the standard of necessity and practicability regarding the school closure statute as it pertains to the district’s decision to close Withrow, Marine and Oak Park Elementary Schools."
834 Voice also stated that it had not received a response from the school district in relation to its May 1 offer. A representative from the Stillwater Area School District has declined to comment on the offer.
Contact Alicia Lebens at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story has been updated.