Attorney Joel Sansone

Attorney Joel Sansone represents the group Save Our Saltsburg Schools. 

The Saltsburg community group Save Our Saltsburg Schools has filed a civil lawsuit and preliminary injunction in its latest efforts to stop a plan that closes Saltsburg Middle/High School this year and transports students in sixth through 12th grades to the Blairsville campus.

Filed May 7 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the lawsuit names the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District as defendant and was filed by the Law Offices of Joel Sansone.

Allegations in the lawsuit say the plaintiff believes the “board never considered or proposed a consolidation plan which would result in the permanent closure of Blairsville Middle-High School, even though Saltsburg Middle High School was only recently built.”

It claims information “purported to be fact” in presentations “was later disproved and/or contradicted,” and that the district did not respond to ongoing inquiries for more information.

The suit also discusses comments by board members including “statements indicating that the board did ‘not care’ about Saltsburg students or their futures.”

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and “compensatory general damages against Defendant District, in the amount proven at trial; compensatory special damages; costs of suit; reasonable attorney’s fees as permitted by law; pre- and post-judgment interest as permitted by law; and such other relief … as the Court may deem proper.”

The emergency motion for preliminary injunction, filed at the same time, seeks “to restrain” the district from consolidating and permanently closing SMHS.

That motion claims the district “denied its members due process under the laws; that Defendant district denied its members an equal and adequate public education; and that Defendant District breached its fiduciary duty to its members,” resulting in a violation of “constitutional and common law rights” under both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Reasons listed in the argument for the injunction include the plaintiff alleging the board made a decision to close SMHS before the required public hearing and before gathering input, information and data on the effects.

It also claims the district “deprived its members of access to an equal and adequate public education” by treating SMHS students differently from those in Blairsville, “and that the difference in treatment will negatively impact Saltsburg students’ access to education and ability to learn.”

The final argument for the injunction claims a breach of fiduciary duty “ when the board intentionally failed to act in good faith and solely for the best interests of its students when it voted to consolidate BMHS and SMHS and permanently close SMHS.”

The defendant’s brief in opposition to the preliminary injunction is due to be filed by Monday, according to court documents.

A hearing on the motion is set for 9 a.m. May 25 in Courtroom 8B before Judge William S. Stickman IV.

Emails to the school district’s solicitor firm, superintendent Philip Martell and board President Rick Harper were not returned by deadline.

Margaret Weaver has served as a Gazette staff writer since 2006. She covers Clymer Borough, the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District and Blairsville court, and also works in the areas of layout, design and editing.