Court grants injunction in favor of Warren County ESC in lawsuit with state

Apr. 3—A Warren County magistrate has granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the Warren County Educational Service Center in its lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce concerning a dispute about alleged violations of special education law.

At the center of the dispute is the Wellness Center, a day-treatment program Warren County operates for students with intensive behavioral and mental health needs.

The injunction stops corrective actions that were issued by ODEW that were the result of an investigation by Disability Rights Ohio that alleged several violations of special education law in May 2022. However, ODEW paused corrections after Warren County ESC raised concerns about the fairness of the previous findings.

The state has 14 days to appeal the magistrate's decision. If no objections are made, the lawsuit will go forward to determine the merits of the case in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

Lacey Snoke, ODEW chief communications officer and press secretary, said, "The Department does not comment on pending litigation."

A second investigation was completed in December 2023 that resulted in ODEW ordering the Warren County ESC to provide updated professional development for staff to work with the state agency and parents to ensure special education students had appropriate individual education programs (IEPs) and were progressing at the correct rate.

In January, a letter from ODEW cited problems including that some of the students hadn't progressed on the Ohio Standardized Tests (OSTs) and many had scored in the "limited" range, which is the lowest level.

Warren County ESC sued the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce in February, saying the state does not have the legal authority to order these changes, and even if they did, DEW never allowed mediation or for the district to work with them to solve the problem.

In his decision, Magistrate Markus L. Moll, said "The Court finds that Plaintiff has provided clear and convincing evidence that there is a substantial likelihood that they will prevail on the merits of the declaratory judgment, mandamus, due process claims, and injunctive relief."

Moll also found that the Ohio Administrative Code limits the filing of systemic complaints to school districts of residence.

Tom Isaacs, Warren County ESC superintendent, said, "I am very happy the judge ruled in our favor. The state presented no evidence to deny free mental health services to these very sick children."

"It is nothing short of outrageous that the state wants to deny free mental health services to these children who are so dangerous to themselves and their communities."

In addition, the magistrate has yet to rule whether Disability Rights Ohio, a nonprofit designated by the state to advocate for people with disabilities, can intervene in the lawsuit. However, both the Warren County ESC and ODEW have filed motions against DRO intervening in this lawsuit.