CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- A senior district court judge has said that the Iowa Board of Regents acted within its authority when board members voted to close Malcolm Price Laboratory School during a Feb. 27 meeting.
Senior Judge Alan Pearson Monday dismissed the lawsuit, which was filed in late March by a group of 37 educators, parents and school supporters. They claimed the Regents did not have the power to close the school. Instead, they believed the directive had to come from the state Legislature, which deemed the school Iowa’s Research and Development School.
However, in his ruling, Pearson said that the legislature only initiated a three- year transition process which would have culminated with a research and development school on July 1, 2012.
“It is unnecessary to consider whether S.F. 470 vested the board of regents with authority to abolish an established research and development school because, at the time of the board’s action on February 27, 2012, there was no research and development school. What existed, as a matter of law, was a laboratory school in transition.”
Ken Bleile, a Price Lab father and plaintiff, said the ruling was “very, very disappointing” but not surprising.
“We knew it was a legal long shot at this juncture,” he said. “It’s sad that Cedar Falls and the Cedar Valley is now today a little less diverse and there are less options for parents, but that is just the way it is.”
Bleile, who has one daughter who graduated this year and another that would have been a seventh-grader at PLS this fall, added that while he respects the judges ruling, he does plan to partake in an appeal should it be filed.
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“My understanding was that the reason the legislation was created was to keep UNI from doing something just like what it did,” he said. “I think the intent of that legislation was to keep UNI from behaving in the manner it has.”
Pearson, however, in his ruling said that the Legislature’s inaction following the announced closure — legislation earmarking $3 million for the the school and requiring the board to keep the school open both failed to gain the approval needed to pass — “indicates its desire to rely on the board of regents and UNI administration to appropriately prioritize spending at the university.”
“... The legislature’s failure to intervene following the announcement of the closure decision demonstrates that it was content to accept the board’s authority to close the laboratory school,” Pearson wrote.
Thomas Frerichs, the Waterloo attorney representing the plaintiffs, and the Board of Regents could not immediately be reached for comment.
University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allen announced the school’s closure on Feb. 22. The planned closure was part of sweeping cuts, which included the termination of more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs, as administrators worked to balance a budget that has been repeatedly cut in recent years.
Jim O’Connor, a university spokesman, said they continue to move forward with the plans to close the school on June 30.