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Harpswell Coastal Academy v. M.S.A.D. 75

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

January 16, 2016

HARPSWELL COASTAL ACADEMY, et al., Petitioners
v.
M.S.A.D. 75, Respondent

AMY DIETERICH, ESQ. BRYAN M. DENCH, ESQ. SKELTON, TAINTOR, & ABBOTT, Plaintiff's Counsel

MICHAEL E. CAREY, ESQ. DAVID W. BERTONI, ESQ. BRANN & ISAACSON, Defendant's Counsel

ORDER

Thomas D. Warren Justice, Superior Court

Before the court is a motion by petitioners Harpswell Coastal Academy, Wesley Withers, Carrie Withers, and John Doe for a stay under Rule 80B and/or for a preliminary injunction.[1]

At the outset, given the specific nature of the relief sought by petitioners, the court concludes that petitioners must demonstrate the standard prerequisites for preliminary equitable relief in order to be entitled to a stay or a preliminary injunction: (1) that they will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction, (2) that such harm outweighs any injury that an injunction would cause to the respondent or others, (3) that they have shown a likelihood of success on the merits, and (4) that the public interest will not be adversely affected. See Bangor Historic Track Inc. v. Department of Agriculture, 2003 ME 140 ¶ 9, 837 A.2d 129.[2]

To the extent that petitioners are seeking affirmative relief rather than an injunction that would simply maintain the status quo, petitioners must show a "clear likelihood of success on the merits" in order to obtain a preliminary injunction. Department of Environmental Protection v. Emerson, 563 A.2d 762, 768 (Me. 1989). In this case MSAD 75 instituted the policy that is being challenged by petitioners in July 2015, and it is perhaps debatable whether a stay of that policy would constitute affirmative relief or maintain the status quo. This issue need not be reached in order to decide the pending motion.

Petitioners are seeking an injunction requiring MSAD 72 to allow students at Harpswell Coastal Academy, a charter school, to try out for athletic teams and other extracurricular activities at Mt. Ararat Middle School and Mt. Ararat High School. See Plaintiffs' motion for stay and preliminary injunction dated November 17, 2015 at 11-12. The specific dispute that gave rise to this action was a decision by MSAD 75 Superintendent Bradley Smith that the son of petitioners Wesley and Carrie Withers, a student attending Harpswell Coastal Academy who is designated as "John Doe" in this action, would not be allowed to try out for the 8th grade basketball team at Mt. Ararat Middle School.

The governing statute provides in pertinent part as follows:

If a public charter school student applies for and receives written approval from the superintendent of the school administrative unit of the noncharter public school or the superintendent's designee, who may withhold such approval, the public charter school student is eligible to participate in extracurricular activities not offered by the student's public charter school at the noncharter public school within the attendance boundaries of which the student's custodial parent or legal guardian resides or the noncharter public school from which the student withdrew for the purpose of attending a public charter school. The superintendent of the school administrative unit or the superintendent's designee may withhold approval only if the public charter school the student attends provides the same extracurricular or interscholastic activity or if the noncharter public school does not have the capacity to provide the public charter school student with the opportunity to participate in the extracurricular or interscholastic activity.

20-A M.R.S. § 2415(2) (emphasis added).

There is no dispute that Harpswell Coastal Academy does not have an 8th grade basketball team. In withholding approval for John Doe to try out for the Mt. Ararat 8th grade basketball team, Superintendent Smith was acting pursuant to a July 2015 policy adopted by MS A.D. 75 which states that an MSAD 75 school

does not have capacity to provide a charter school student the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activity when all available slots and positions for the activity are taken by regularly enrolled students. A student enrolled in MSAD 75 schools will not be denied the opportunity to participate in favor of a student enrolled in a charter school.

Because the number of MSAD 75 students who tried out for the 8th grade basketball team exceeded the number of positions on the team, Superintendent Smith informed Mr. and Mrs. Withers that their son would not be allowed to try out.

Petitioners argue that the MSAD policy and Superintendent Smith's decision are based on an incorrect interpretation of state ...


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