OSBA’s legal assistance fund (LAF) supports school districts that are defending legal challenges with the potential to affect public schools statewide. The courts have recently ruled on two LAF cases.

Talawanda City School District Board of Education v. Testa

The first case, Talawanda City School District Board of Education v. Testa, deals with whether school-owned property is exempt from taxation if the property is not being used for school purposes. In the case, the district leased several acres of its property to a farmer. The Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) denied a property tax exemption on the leased land, finding that because the land was not being used for school purposes, it was not entitled to exemption.

In January 2015, LAF filed an amicus brief arguing that the statute that generally provides for an exemption of school-owned property exempts real property broadly and doesn’t place any restrictions on its use. In December 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed with this position and overturned the BTA’s ruling.

The case is a good decision for Ohio school districts. The court’s decision clarifies that districts are entitled to a property tax exemption for all real property owned by the board of education regardless of how the property is used. Districts should work with their board counsel to review the tax status of property they own to determine what impact, if any, this decision may have on the district.

Schott v. Wenk

The second case, Schott v. Wenk, is a case out of Ohio that was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the case, a district administrator reported suspected child abuse pursuant to her duties as a mandatory reporter. The student’s parents then sued the administrator, alleging that she was retaliating against them amid a dispute over an individualized education plan (IEP) for the student. In an unfortunate decision, the court agreed with the parents and found that they had established a case of retaliation under the First Amendment.

In August 2015, LAF joined the National School Boards Association and 15 other national organizations to file an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the court to protect teachers and other school officials from lawsuits arising from reports of suspected child abuse they make under mandatory reporter laws. The brief asked the court to hear and overturn the lower court’s ruling that makes mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse vulnerable to federal claims brought by an alleged abuser. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court recently found there was no reason to hear the case after the parties had reached a confidential settlement of the lawsuit, leaving in place the unfortunate case precedent rendered by the lower courts.

If you have questions about any of the cases mentioned in this update or you’d like to discuss potential assistance that LAF could provide to your district, please contact OSBA’s division of legal services.

Posted by Sara Clark on 1/15/2016