A second court appeal to stop the closing of three elementary schools in the Stillwater district failed Friday, making it increasingly likely that those schools will be shuttered by September.
The Minnesota Supreme Court declined to review an April state appeals court ruling that said the school board's decision to close the schools was "supported by substantial evidence."
By declining the case, the high court in effect lets the lower court's ruling stand.
The appeal was filed by a parents' group, 834 Voice, to stop the district from closing Marine Elementary in Marine on St. Croix, Oak Park Elementary on the border of Oak Park Heights and Stillwater, and Withrow Elementary in rural Hugo.
School district officials made the decision to close those schools in March 2016. Subsequently, the school board voted to suspend preparations for the closings until the appeal was decided.
In a statement Friday, 834 Voice said that closing the schools "will have a ripple effect through the entire Stillwater Area School District, negatively impacting all students with larger class sizes, reduced access to teachers and individualized learning opportunities and longer bus rides. This outcome is a tragic one for our children and our communities."
The parents' group also has filed a lawsuit against the school district in Washington County that alleges open meeting law violations, conflicts of interest and lack of internal accounting controls, among other accusations. That suit is scheduled for a jury trial in October.
The school district issued this statement Friday:
"While we know this decision by the Supreme Court doesn't make the closing of Marine, Oak Park and Withrow any easier, it does end many months of uncertainty as we conclude this year and move into a new school year."
The school board now will have to decide whether to continue delaying implementation of the closings or to move ahead with them. No date has been set for that discussion, said Carissa Keister, a district spokesperson.