The family of two students who were disenrolled from the Sparta Township School District in November filed a complaint and are seeking a jury trial in a lawsuit against the board of education, which says the students were not domiciled in the district.
George T. Daggett on Nov. 20 filed a lawsuit in Sussex County Superior Court on behalf of the parents of K.T. and P.T., as they are referred to in the lawsuit. It says the students are handicapped and accuses the school board of ignoring the difference between domicile and residence.
“Domicile is your home,” Daggett said. “Residence is where you live but not permanently. The kids are domiciled in Sparta but temporarily reside elsewhere.”
At the end of its Nov. 19 meeting, the school board in an executive session assessed the students’ tuition from Jan. 3, 2020, up to the present, as well as any future period of their ineligible attendance in the district. The board passed a resolution that says the students’ parents did not attend a hearing of the board’s Residency Committee but provided a position statement through legal counsel acknowledging they were not living in Sparta.
The lawsuit says the family is domiciled in Sparta but has a temporary residence because of their children’s disabilities. The suit says P.T. is severely autistic and non-verbal, requires special education, and is in an isolated special-needs class. The school board made a “deliberate decision” that will interrupt P.T.’s progress, according to the suit.
K.T. is also handicapped and was enrolled under then-Superintendent Michael Rossi as an accommodation to the sibling, the lawsuit says. It says the remediation of the home the family purchased to accommodate the handicapped children has been delayed because of the pandemic.
The lawsuit calls the board of education’s actions “discriminatory and a violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination” as it applies to handicapped persons.
“Our decision to disenroll the students was based purely upon the fact that the family is not domiciled in Sparta, which they candidly admit,” said Marc Zitomer, the board of education attorney, in a statement. “Any claim that the board was motivated by a discriminatory or other reason is completely meritless. This case was simply about enforcing board policy, which we are legally required to do.”
“Domicile is your home. Residence is where you live but not permanently. The kids are domiciled in Sparta but temporarily reside elsewhere.” Attorney George T. Daggett