A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge yesterday rejected a lawsuit challenging the county School Board's decision to close Fort Hunt High School, but said the suit raised issues that citizens should not dismiss lightly.
Judge Richard J. Jamborsky said the board did not act improperly or overstep its authority when it voted in March to convert Fort Hunt to an intermediate school and send its students to Groveton High School in the fall.
The merged high school will be renamed West Potomac High, and Fort Hunt will be renamed Sandburg Intermediate School.
"The court will not and cannot consider the wisdom of the School Board's action," Jamborsky said in his six-page ruling, handed down less than six weeks before school starts. "The Court simply concludes that the School Board's actions were rational and legal."
The board closed Fort Hunt because it and other schools in the eastern county were underused due to declining enrollment. The action stirred strong emotions among neighborhood residents, who described the school as the center of community life and packed the courtroom for the 2 1/2-day trial that began July 1.
The lawsuit by Fort Hunt parents made two main arguments: the School Board violated its own guidelines by creating an overcrowded school, and the board should have considered closing nearby Edison High School instead, but did not because of improper political pressure from then-County Supervisor Sandra L. Duckworth.
But Jamborsky said the board had other factors to consider besides overcrowding, which will be alleviated by temporary classrooms and remodeling. He said Edison High School was not studied by a citizen task force that reported to the board, but the board could have closed Edison had it so desired.
Without elaborating, Jamborsky said the lawsuit raised issues that "should not be dismissed lightly by Fairfax County citizens concerned about schools" and provided an opportunity to examine School Board procedures on the sensitive issue of school closings.
School Board Chairman Mary E. Collier said in a statement that she is pleased with the ruling and urged those disappointed with it to join in helping make the new intermediate and high schools work. Asked whether the case would prompt the board to rethink its procedures, she replied: "The board believed we could not have been more open, accessible and careful in our deliberations. We do not think we could have done more."
Lawyers for the parents who brought the suit could not be reached for comment. Peter H. Brinitzer, chairman of the Neighborhood Schools Coalition of the Fort Hunt Area, which backed the suit, said it would decide early next week whether to appeal.
"We're very sad," he said, "and we believe we have an obligation now to move forward and make the new school a success for all concerned."