A group of 32 Fairfax County parents yesterday sued the county school board, charging that its recent decision to close Fort Hunt High School violates board policies and was influenced by political maneuvering.
The plaintiffs, all of whom live in the Fort Hunt community and have children in the high school or nearby elementary schools, filed three suits in Fairfax Circuit Court, alleging that the 10-member school board acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and possibly exceeded its authority.
Among other things, the suits allege that behind-the-scenes political pressure by some county officials, including former supervisor Sandra L. Duckworth and Supervisor Joseph A. Alexander, improperly influenced the outcome of the board's March 14 decision to convert Fort Hunt to an intermediate school and send its 1,260 students to nearby Groveton High.
"All we're asking is that the School Board do it over, and do it right," said Frank W. Dunham Jr. of Arlington, one of three lawyers involved in the suits.
Fairfax School Superintendent William J. Burkholder had no comment on the suit but the board's vice chairman, Carmin (Chuck) Caputo, said the board acted properly. "I'm confident that the School Board acted in concert with the system policies and regulations in the annual boundary adjustment process," he said.
"I think it's really preposterous -- ridiculous," said Alexander. "Where these people get the idea that political pressure goes on in the school operation, I can't understand. I think they're grasping at straws, I really do."
In the past five years, about eight lawsuits have been filed against the board over elementary school closings and enrollment boundary changes, according to School Board lawyer Thomas J. Cawley. None has succeeded at overturning the board's decisions.
Dunham said nonetheless he is confident the Fort Hunt parents will win. "If I didn't believe we were right, I wouldn't be filing the lawsuit," he said. "But, it is always difficult to ask a judge to accept the responsibility of overturning a governmental decision of this magnitude."
One of the suits, brought by Ronald B. Greenleese, parent of a Fort Hunt High School 9th grader, and others, charges that the closing was the product of improper political maneuvering, notably by Duckworth and Alexander.
Duckworth, who now lives in Hawaii, said in a telephone interview she did nothing wrong. "It's very easy for people to turn around and say 'Well, we've got to have a scapegoat. Let's choose the one who's not here anymore."
She called the Fort Hunt lawsuits "a desperate move" by the parents. "If the outcome had been to close another school, I'm sure parents from that community would have been equally concerned."
The lawsuit by Richard Lunsford, a parent of an 8th grader, and others, charges that the board violated its own regulations by failing to study all possible solutions to the problem of declining enrollments in eastern Fairfax.
The third suit, by Carol Alpers, mother of a Fort Hunt junior and two other children, and others, charges that the merger of Fort Hunt and Groveton will grossly overcrowd the new, combined high school for the next three years.
Alpers claims that the overcrowding will require four to eight temporary trailers to house students and violates the board's own maximum enrollment guidelines for high schools.
The School Board's 6-to-4 decision to close Fort Hunt -- made March 14 and revised March 28 -- was the most difficult board members had ever faced, Collier has said.