PEPPER PIKE — The Orange Board of Education passed a resolution to allow four students living on North Pointe Drive at The Pointe subdivision to remain in the Orange schools, even though they live in the Beachwood City School District, Orange school board President Beth Wilson-Fish said on Saturday.

The other two students, 8-year-old Leon and 6-year-old Noam Kirschner, can also stay at Moreland Hills Elementary School in Orange this year under a settlement agreement that their parents, Michael and Fani, signed on Friday, Mr. Kirschner said.

Superintendent Lynn Campbell found that 22 residences on North Pointe Drive were actually in the Beachwood City School District earlier this spring, but seven children were enrolled at Orange. One child already enrolled at Beachwood. On Wednesday, the Orange and Beachwood school boards voted on an agreement to allow the children who are currently at Orange to stay there until they graduate without paying $24,000 per year per student for tuition. Beachwood unanimously approved the agreement, but Orange BOE turned it down by a 2-2 vote with one abstention.  

The Kirschners filed a lawsuit in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on Thursday (Aug. 27) to keep the board from removing their children. Mr. Kirschner said that according to the settlement agreement, his children are permitted to remain at Orange for the 2020-2021 academic year, but it is contingent on the family pursuing a territory transfer for the 22 houses on North Pointe Drive to permanently become part of the Orange school district instead of Beachwood.

 “We’re relieved that our kids are going to be back to school on Monday,” Mr. Kirschner said. “We’re upset it had to come to all this, but we’re relieved that they’re going to be starting on Monday. It’s not over, this is just the next step for us.”

 He explained that the school board is giving them one year to work on the territory transfer. The family already collected enough signatures from the affected residents and submitted it to the Beachwood Board of Education. Beachwood Superintendent Robert Hardis said Friday that he has not been in favor of a territory transfer since this debacle began in the spring. He said that the land where the 22 houses are now has been part of the Beachwood schools since the 1960s and the property taxes are important to the district.

Territory transfers are decided by the Ohio Board of Education. Mr. Kirschner said that if the territory transfer is approved, the kids can stay at Orange permanently. If not, his family will have to either move into the Orange district or the children will enroll in Beachwood schools. Jeremy Tor of Spangenberg, Shibley and Liber, LLP is working pro bono for the Kirschners, but did not return a call from the Times on Saturday.

In the agreement that the Orange school board passed Saturday morning, the remaining four students are permitted to stay at Orange, although Orange Communications Director Lou DeVincentis said that he did not know if this is a temporary or long-term fix. He said that the agreement voted on Saturday morning is different from the one that did not pass on Wednesday.

Dr. Campbell said that state and federal privacy laws do not permit the school board members or the administration to share details about the agreements.

 “We were presented with new information after the Aug. 26 board meeting, and I’m happy we were able to continue working with the families to reach an agreement,” Dr. Campbell said in a statement.

The board approved the agreement on Saturday with an abstention from Vice President Rebecca Boyle. She also abstained from the vote on Wednesday. She explained that she was required to abstain due to a conflict of interest. Board member Deborah Kamat, who voted against the agreement on Wednesday but in favor on Saturday, did not return calls from the Times.

Board member Melanie Weltman also voted against the agreement last week but voted in favor of it on Saturday.

“I stated that I wanted to be supportive of what was in the best interest of the children but there were limitations of what’s appropriate in extending something for that amount of time,” Ms. Weltman said of the original agreement, which would have allowed the six children to stay in the district until they graduate.

“[The new agreement] addresses some of my concerns regarding the best interest of the students. I was and have been very supportive of trying to find a positive resolution for these children,” she said. “I’m very supportive of the board’s decision.”

 Board member Jeff Leikin said that he voted in favor of the agreement during each vote because he wanted to do what is best for the kids, although he said neither agreement is perfect.

 “I look at the kids first. Whether this issue is resolved or not, I don’t think this is a win for the school district, the board or the parents,” he said. “I voted for the agreement because as a board member, my concern is the kids, and the right thing to do was to help these kids.”

 School started for Orange virtually on Aug. 27.

Local family sues Orange BOE to keep kids in district (Aug. 29)

PEPPER PIKE — Michael and Fani Kirschner filed a lawsuit on Aug. 26 against Superintendent Lynn Campbell and the Orange City School District to keep their children in the Orange schools, even though they live in the Beachwood school district. The case is before Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Emily Hagan.

Earlier this spring, Dr. Campbell noticed that 22 residences on North Pointe Drive in The Pointe residential subdivision were actually in the Beachwood City School District, not Orange. Four families were effected and seven children were already enrolled at Orange, including Michael and Fani’s sons Leon, 8, and Noam, 6.

Dr. Campbell and Beachwood Superintendent Robert Hardis came up with an agreement to allow the children and any future siblings to stay at Orange through their graduation without having to pay $24,000 per year per student for tuition. Property taxes for those six families would also be shifted from Beachwood to Orange, according to the proposal. The Beachwood school board approved the agreement on Aug. 26, the Orange BOE did not.

“We’re still in shock,” Mr. Kirschner said on Friday. “That board failed our family and our children.”

If the agreement passed, Dr. Hardis said that there would have been an understanding that both school boards need to approve it every year until the children graduate. The Beachwood school board approved it unanimously. Orange board President Beth Wilson-Fish and Jeff Leikin voted in favor while Melanie Weltman and Deborah Kamat voted against it and Vice President Rebecca Boyle abstained.

Jeremy Tor of Spangenberg, Shibley and Liber, LLP is representing the Kirschner family pro bono. On Friday, he said that the purpose of the lawsuit is to obtain an order from the court preventing the Orange school district from withdrawing students Leon and Noam from the district. Mr. Tor said that there was a hearing scheduled for Friday, but it was canceled because “it appears we are going to reach a resolution.” He expects that the case will be wrapped up by this week. John Latchney of O’Toole, McLaughlin, Dooley and Pecora is representing the Orange schools in the case.

Both school boards met to determine if the six affected children could stay at Orange or not on Aug. 26. Orange started the school year virtually the next day, Aug. 27, and Beachwood started the year virtually on Aug. 24. Mr. Kirschner said that the boys already had their Chromebooks from Orange but their access to the virtual classroom has been deactivated.

“It’s upsetting to see our kids sitting here, knowing they should be meeting with friends and classmates and teachers,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to get them into school as soon as possible.”

Dr. Campbell did not return a call from the Times. He released a statement on Aug. 27 regarding the board’s vote on the superintendents’ agreement for the children on North Pointe Drive. He announced this issue at a school board meeting in April, explaining that he was checking an address and found a residence on North Pointe Drive in the Beachwood school district, then later found the other 21 residences on that street that are part of the Beachwood schools. At that time, Dr. Campbell discussed the possibility of a territory transfer with the affected families.

“We understand this is an unfortunate situation for all concerned. The law, however, provides a remedy to address this situation: the territory transfer process. Though the families have initiated that process, Orange extended an offer to permit their children to remain in our schools for the 2020-2021 school year,” according to Dr. Campbell’s statement.

“Unfortunately, while we have worked extensively with Beachwood to permit such an arrangement, no agreement could be reached that satisfied both school districts’ concerns. Because the law establishes a procedure to be followed, we could not responsibly consent to any agreement that would potentially circumvent it, and therefore could not accept the terms of the 10+ year attendance agreement which Beachwood proposed,” he said in the statement.

There were originally four affected families and seven enrolled children. One family decided to enroll their child at Beachwood, so the remaining six children were considered for the proposed superintendents’ agreement, according to Mrs. Wilson-Fish. She said that the board cannot comment on the pending lawsuit at this time. She explained the reasoning behind her vote in favor of the agreement to keep the kids at Orange.

“I thought of the kids,” she said. “Basically when I thought long and hard about it, I thought about the children and how the change of school systems would affect the kids, especially since it was so close to the beginning of the school year.”

Dr. Hardis said that he was “shocked” that the Orange school board did not pass the agreement. Beachwood school officials were looking for a long-term solution, he said, and there were many communications between Beachwood and Orange. Dr. Hardis opposed a territory transfer because that land, where the 22 residences on North Pointe Drive are now, has been part of the Beachwood schools since the 1960s. He said that they are important to Beachwood for property tax revenue.

According to the complaint, the Kirschners bought the house in 2017 and sought a house in the Orange school district on purpose. Mr. Kirschner said that he and his wife, Fani, did their research before buying a house. They talked to various educators and coaches in the area and determined that they liked the campus and diversity at Orange.

“We determined that Orange would be the best fit for us,” he said.

According to the complaint, the multiple listing service for the Kirschner’s home stated that it was within the Orange school district. Their realtor confirmed with the Cuyahoga County Auditor’s Office that this home was part of the Orange schools, the complaint states. Mr. Kirschner said that the Orange schools also did a residency check in person soon after the family moved in.

He said that his heart sank when he received word from Dr. Campbell that they did not reside in the Orange school district. The family faced more “shocking” news as they watched the school board vote down the agreement to keep their kids at Orange.

“It took us a few hours to have an emergency family meeting, but we decided to continue the fight to keep our kids at Orange,” Mr. Kirschner said of the decision to file the lawsuit against the district.

As of Aug. 28, none of the remaining six children had enrolled at the Beachwood schools, Dr. Hardis said.

A Times check of legal documents from the auditor’s office clearly show that the properties in question are located in the Beachwood City School District and the city of Pepper Pike.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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