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Warren County ESC granted injunction in lawsuit against Ohio Department of Education

interior of a traditional primary school with a wooden floor and elements, nobody around

The Warren County Educational Service Center in Lebanon, which operates programs for students with specialized needs in the county, has been granted an injunction by the court in its lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce.

The injunction stops ODEW's corrective action plan from taking effect at the center. The corrective action plan issued to Warren County ESC stems from a 2022 investigation by the department into the center after the advocacy group Disability Rights Ohio filed a complaint claiming it wasn't offering adequate services to students from more than 40 local school districts.

RELATED: 2 years on, dispute over special education in Warren County remains unresolved

ODEW's investigation identified issues with Warren County ESC's Wellness Center in Mason, which largely focuses on providing mental health treatment for students at risk of harming themselves or others. Following the investigation, ODEW issued a corrective action plan so Warren County ESC could meet state standards. However, in February DRO filed a complaint against ODEW claiming it didn't follow through with its initial plan and allowed Warren County ESC to continue operating without taking corrective action.

Warren County ESC then opened a civil case against ODEW. Warren County ESC's attorney contends DRO's 2022 initial complaint claiming it lacked evidence of systematic issues and says ODEW's corrective action plan is "wholly unsupported by special education law because it takes away parent-choice to place students with the most significant behavior and mental health problems at the ESC's Wellness Center."

With the injunction in place, the ESC isn't required to follow the state's plan and can operate as usual while the legal battle continues.

RELATED: Investigation into Warren County ESC reveals inadequate services for students with disabilities

"We are obviously pleased with the decision," the ESC's attorney Gary Stedronsky said in a statement to WVXU. "I am glad the court accepted our argument that the Department of Education and Workforce did not have the legal authority to accept the DRO complaints against the ESC or issue corrective action against the ESC. The decision was based on a plain reading of the Department's own regulations that were ignored by staff at the Department when they accepted the DRO complaints and issued the corrective action."

Kristin Hildebrant, senior attorney for Disability Rights Ohio, says Warren County ESC's handling of the situation has not shown a desire to improve services or do what's best for students.

"DRO disagrees that an injunction should have been granted in this case and believes that Warren County Common Please Court is not the correct place for this matter to be resolved. The ESC has failed to exhaust required administrative remedies before going to court and the court should grant our motion to dismiss the ESC's case," Hildebrant said.

DRO has filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit but the court has not yet ruled on the motion.

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.