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Haywood school board responds to lawsuit

haywoodA lawsuit filed by a Waynesville parent and attorney in May regarding the closure of Central Elementary School is beginning to see some action.

On June 24, Board of Education attorney Pat Smathers filed a response to plaintiff Mark Melrose’s motion to shorten the time in which Smathers could respond to his discovery requests. 

Melrose also asked the court to expedite the process of hearing his motion for a preliminary injunction.

Melrose’s lawsuit stems from the Haywood County School Board’s February decision to close the school as a result of declining enrollment and budget cuts. He alleges secret “ulterior motives” were at play in the decision — namely, that school administration had been eyeing Central Elementary as a new office location due to the possibility that they will soon be evicted from their current offices at the old hospital on North Main Street. The county owns the old hospital building and is in negotiations to sell the building to a developer wanting to turn it into an affordable housing complex. 

Melrose believes that officials wanted to keep their decision and their motivations secret from the public, violating state sunshine laws. 

Smathers’ response counters Melrose’s assertions by outlining the Jan. 11 board vote to “conduct a study for the potential closing” of Central, as well as the Feb. 16 board vote to close the school. Both votes were conducted in regular, open meetings. 

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The school was closed on June 14 in accordance with the board’s vote, but on May 6, Melrose filed his complaint after making what Smathers called “voluminous” public records requests. 

Melrose’s requests “will require a significant amount of information, documentation, and input from various staff personnel” who are on summer break, according to Smathers’ response, presumably making compliance more difficult. Indeed, some employees — like former Central Principal Jeanann Yates — have left the Haywood County school system altogether.

Additionally, Smathers’ response seeks dismissal of Melrose’s suit, claiming that Melrose isn’t even suing a real entity. 

“… there is no legal entity known as the Haywood County Board of Education,” the response reads, citing the case’s Melrose v. The Haywood County Board of Education caption. “However, there is a body politic whose corporate name is The Haywood County Consolidated School System Board of Education…”

On that basis, a judge will soon decide whether Smathers’ claim of “insufficiency of process and service of process upon a legal and proper entity” is enough for dismissal. 

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