Dept. of Education vs. Parents of Croydon by Darren Tapp with Laura Bennett

Samantha Yeaton News & Views

The Department of Education is doing the residents of Croydon a massive disservice.
The Department of Education of New Hampshire (DoE) is seeking an injunction against the Croydon School Board. Why, you ask? Because the DoE apparently does not think families should be able to choose where they send their children to school. Because the DoE apparently thinks it ‘knows better’ what is best for each given student in the whole nation than that student’s own parents or local school board.
Parents have found that Newport schools do not work for their children and thus wish to educate them elsewhere, including at private schools. The DoE’s injunction is not only robbing Croydon residents of their time and money, but it is — at its root— very opposed to the well-being of Croydon families since the injunction seeks to infringe on their right to make the best possible educational decisions for their children.
The cost to Croydon taxpayers is staggering. $20,000 was raised from private sources to cover Croydon’s first round of legal expenses. Compare that to the mere $16,000 that Croydon’s school choice program (for public schools only) is expected to save taxpayers this year. Note that the private funding of the defense does not protect taxpayers — any costs racked up by the Attorney General’s (AG) prosecution of the case that may be passed on to local taxpayers to cover.
The legal process of this injunction is horribly time-consuming. Huge amounts of time were invested in mounting a petition campaign supporting Croydon. Add on the time that the attorney general’s office spent responding to the petition. Then, after a lengthy written correspondence first, the DoE’s oral argument for the injunction began on November 30th at the Strafford County Superior Court. Around 20 to 30 people took the time to attend. All three members of the Croydon School Board made the almost-two-hour-long trek to be at the courthouse early for the 2:30 appointment, which started late.
We also must consider the time that the lawyers spent preparing the case. At least two Ph.Ds were also there supporting the defense. If we value productivity, then this wasteful process seems rather appalling.
Beyond the unnecessary impracticality of the case, the Attorney General’s office has had a puzzling moral (or immoral) stance toward the Croydon School Board from day one. For example, the coalition School Choice for New Hampshire organized a petition that generated a personal email to the Attorney General’s office. Some of the signers of this petition were then offered legal advice from the Attorney General’s Office in the form of a mere assertion (no school choice including private schools allowed) without any explanation. During the hearing, the judge asked the AG’s attorney if the education of the students mattered. The answer of “no” was offered without any further explanation. This was after the AG’s office made the paradoxical argument that it was the only entity that could satisfactorily judge the quality of education.
The AG’s attorney also seemed to be unaware of basic facts and the prolific correspondence related to this case. In a letter dated June 22nd, 2015, Attorney Charles G. Douglas wrote the Department of Education, concluding:
For these reasons, the district respectfully disagrees with your continued order to stop sending our students to approved private schools when we believe it is the best interest of the child and district. We will continue this practice until you provide a legitimate legal basis for your assertions. [emphasis added] At the hearing, the judge asked the AG’s attorney why a injunction was being sought just now. Surely, if students must switch schools, it would be in their best interest to do so in-between school years and not in the middle of one. The AG’s attorney replied that they had assumed that students would go to a public school this school year (in accordance with the AG office’s assertions) despite the clear information to the contrary in Douglas’ letter.
Not only is the DoE’s injunction against the Croydon School Board wasting taxpayer time and money, but it seems downright disorganized, purposeless, and petty. The AG office’s lack of rudimentary knowledge of the case and remarkable answers (or lack of them) causes one to wonder if the monolithic DoE truly serves the interests of each student and each family. Local school boards much better understand families’ educational needs and can better attend to them if their right to do so is not impinged.
Update: On December 14th, the court issued an order denying the request for an injunction. This ongoing process will continue on January 13th at 9:30am at the Sullivan County Superior Courthouse.