On March 28, 2018, the Second District Appellate Court upheld the decision of the Regional Board of School Trustees of DeKalb County to deny a detachment/annexation petition. The petition sought to detach properties from DeKalb Community Unit School District No. 428 and annex them into the boundaries of Sycamore Community Unit School District No. 427.
In affirming the Regional Board’s decision, the appellate court explained that recent changes in the School Code required the Regional Board to first conclude that granting the petition would result in a “significant direct educational benefit” to the petitioners’ children before it could consider other factors such as the petitioners’ community of interest (i.e., where the petitioners shop, bank, etc.).
In this case, the petitioners stipulated that the educational programming at the two school districts was substantially similar. However, they presented evidence showing that they identified more with the community in the Sycamore District than the DeKalb District. They also argued that the safety of students would be improved by attending school at the Sycamore District.
On the safety issue, the petitioners presented evidence that Cortland Elementary School, in the DeKalb District, was located less than a mile from a landfill. In 2014, approximately a year and a half before the petition was filed, the landfill released an odor during a maintenance project that traveled to Cortland and caused the school to be evacuated. The petitioners contended that the capacity of the landfill had also increased by 500 tons of waste per day and that it was likely that children at Cortland would be harmed by fumes from the landfill in the future. The petitioners also showed that the speed limit near Cortland was 55 miles per hour.
The DeKalb District rebutted this evidence by showing that it had installed air quality monitors at Cortland and trained staff on how to respond in the event the air monitors detected a problem. Additionally, the odor from the landfill that was released in 2014 was non-toxic and unlikely to occur again because the landfill had completed the maintenance project that caused the odor to be released in 2014. The court also took judicial notice that local ordinance limited vehicles speed near Cortland to 20 miles per hour when children were present.
Based on this evidence, the Regional Board concluded that there would not be a significant direct educational benefit to granting the petition, and it did not consider the petitioners’ community of interest. The appellate court affirmed the Regional Board’s decision and explained that “reversing the Board’s decision would require us to determine that the plaintiffs had established that there would be a significant direct educational benefit to their children in not being exposed to a slight health risk that was unlikely to reoccur. That we cannot do.”
The appellate court’s decision reaffirms that the changes to the School Code in the detachment/annexation process place educational issues ahead of secondary issues like where the petitioners do their shopping or banking.