Judge dismisses lawsuit attempting to reverse Worthington’s withdrawal from Gateway Regional School District

Last modified: Saturday, February 27, 2016

WORTHINGTON — Town officials say that are looking forward to moving on now that the lawsuit filed against Worthington for withdrawing from the Gateway Regional School District has been dismissed.

The suit, filed by Gateway Regional School Committee member Ruth Kennedy of Russell, Russell Finance Committee member Derrick Mason, the Gateway Regional School District and the Town of Huntington, was dismissed Feb. 8 by now-retired Superior Court Judge Bertha D. Josephson.

“We are, of course, pleased that the Superior Court found in our favor by granting the motions to dismiss on all counts,” Select Board Chairman Richard Wagner said. “However, and more importantly, we hope the decision will lead the district and the other plaintiffs to realize that the best interests of our children are better served by spending our limited resources on their education, rather than on continued and pointless litigation.”

The lawsuit, originally filed in October of 2014 and amended on March 27, 2015, named as defendants Worthington, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The suit maintained that Worthington’s withdrawal from the district was unconstitutional and violated a contractual agreement.

Worthington’s decision to leave Gateway came after the district closed the town’s elementary school in 2010. Worthington reopened the R.H. Conwell Elementary School last year.

Worthington originally sought approval to withdraw from the six other towns in the district, Blandford, Chester, Huntington, Middlefield, Montgomery and Russell.

However, when Worthington’s request was turned down, it sought help from the state Legislature.

In May 2014, then-Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation allowing Worthington to separate from Gateway and create its own school district.

In her decision Josephson said that the Legislature had acted within its authority and that none of the plaintiffs bringing the suit had legal standing to challenge that act.

Josephson noted that Worthington had acted in good faith by following the withdrawal procedure set out in the district’s contractual agreement.

Since Worthington left Gateway, it dissolved the bylaw that allowed the town to participate in another school district so it could legally create the Worthington School District.

“I think the legislation allowing us to do this, and now this decision to dismiss the suit, should be enough to let us all finally move on at this point,” Worthington Select Board member Evan Johnson said.

Kennedy, however, said that she is “not giving up” and likely plans to take the issue to the state Supreme Judicial Court.

“I think that we are definitely going to take this further and I am raring to go,” Kennedy said. “I personally plan to appeal on my own behalf and I think the town and the school committee will probably do the same.”

Kennedy said that the decision came as a surprise to her and that it was made on a “very narrow basis.” She contends that Worthington’s withdrawal from Gateway has left the taxpayers in the other district towns responsible for Worthington’s financial share, and they should have legal recourse.

“We have to do something,” Kennedy said. “Regardless of what the judge said, this does affect me directly and personally.”

Johnson said it saddens him to hear that legal action may continue.

“It is certainly their right to pursue this, but I think their odds are pretty long,” Johnson said. “That said, we are prepared to defend ourselves if we have to.”

Fran Ryan can be reached at Fryan.gazette@gmail.com.


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