Va. Supreme Court to hear Fairfax schools case

The Supreme Court of Virginia agreed Wednesday to hear arguments in a lawsuit that accuses the Fairfax County School Board of violating the Virginia Freedom of Information Act last year as it arrived at a decision to close Clifton Elementary School.

Plaintiff Jill DeMello Hill filed suit in February and then appealed to the state’s high court after a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge dismissed the case in July.

“We’re very gratified by the Supreme Court’s accepting the petition for appeal,” said Hill’s lawyer, Benjamin Chew.

Fairfax County Public Schools officials declined to comment.

The board voted in 2010 to shutter Clifton Elementary despite strong community support for keeping the school open.

In the run-up to that decision, board members communicated frequently with one another by e-mail, often forwarding messages successively from one member to another and another.

Hill contends that such communications constituted illegal secret meetings. According to the law, all meetings of three or more school board members must be conducted in public.

The key legal question is how Freedom of Information Act provisions should be interpreted in a digital age, when technology allows for widespread and instantaneous communication.

The Supreme Court will also decide whether Fairfax County Public Schools should pay Hill’s attorney fees.

Chew said he expects the court to hear arguments in the next several months.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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