School facilities suit headed to state supreme court
January 26, 2023
A 51 page closing brief for Wahkiakum School District’s suit against the State of Washington has been submitted to the Supreme Court in preparation for their court date before the Washington State Supreme Court on March 14.
The school district, which is represented by Thomas Ahearne, the winning litigator in the landmark McCleary case, first filed the lawsuit in Wahkiakum Superior Court in December of 2021, after the community voted against a 22 year $28.75 million bond in 2020 for renovations. The suit was dismissed with prejudice by Superior Court Judge Donald Richter on June 24, 2022, and the district quickly appealed, requesting a direct review from the state supreme court, which was eventually granted.
HVAC issues continue to plague the district, as does a leaky roof, and an outdated electrical system. There is no sprinkler system in the event of a fire, and a host of issues in the science classroom has students taking their experiments outside for safety sake, which isn’t convenient in a Northwest climate.
The lawsuit asserts that the state’s constitution includes facilities when it says “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”
Superintendent Brent Freeman and the WSD Board of Directors believe improved facilities are necessary, not only for the safety of Wahkiakum students, but to also provide a 21st century education for youths to compete in a modern world.
“We have poured everything we have to offer to pass a bond, get direct financial assistance from the legislature and are now on the verge of a legal determination from the state Supreme Court,” Freeman said. “Regardless of how this plays out, we still have a lot of work to do to get these facilities updated and fully functional for the kids today as well as those in the future. I'll have butterflies in my stomach until at least the 14th of March, and never before have I felt like I need a win more than how I feel here and now.”
“It's not so much that our kids deserve it,” he said. “They do. [It’s] how much they need it.”