ARUNDEL – A York County judge has upheld an October ruling that Regional School Unit 21 is required to pay for Arundel students who choose to attend Thornton Academy Middle School.

In 2016, Thornton Academy and several Arundel parents filed a lawsuit against RSU 21 after the school board voted to stop paying for students to attend Thornton Academy Middle School after the class of 2019 graduated from the private school in Saco.

RSU 21 designated the Middle School of the Kennebunks, a public school located within the district, as the school for its middle school pupils.

The 2016 vote by the school board came at the end of a 10-year contract between Arundel and Thornton Academy, made before Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel joined to form RSU 21. Under the terms of the 2006 contract, all Arundel middle school students were able to attend the then newly formed Thornton Academy Middle School using public funding.

Some Arundel residents believed that after the contract ended students from Arundel would have the choice to attend either Thornton Academy Middle School or the Middle School of the Kennebunks.

However, the school district argued that since Arundel middle schoolers did not have school choice – the option to choose from more than one school – before the town entered the 10-year contract with Thornton Academy, they should not have choice after the contract ended. This belief was supported by the Maine Department of Education, the school district said.

The 2016 vote by the school board did not affect high school students from Arundel, who continue to have the choice to attend Thornton Academy, Kennebunk High School or Biddeford High School, as school officials said high school students had choice before Arundel became part of the RSU.

In October, York County Superior Court ruled that middle school students from Arundel had the right to attend either the Middle School of the Kennebunks or Thornton Academy Middle School through public funding.

Shortly after, the RSU 21 board voted to ask the court to reconsider and amend its ruling.

Justice Wayne Douglas issued in a written court order on Tuesday that denied the school district’s request.

RSU 21 Superintendent Katie Hawes said that the district remains convinced that its position is consistent with the intention of the Legislature’s school reorganization laws.

“This result is not unexpected since it is rare that a judge will change his mind after issuing an order, but we wanted to give him the chance to reconsider before proceeding to the next step in the process,” Hawes said in an email.

Thornton Academy Headmaster Rene Menard said the court’s decision was pretty clear, and the school is happy to continue to provide education to middle school students from Arundel.

“It’s good news for Arundel parents that the law has been upheld and their children will be allowed to attend (Thornton Academy Middle School),” Menard said.

Arundel parent Noel Holmes also applauded the decision.

“I for one appreciate receiving this early holiday gift for the kids in our town,” he said.

Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 780-9015 or at:

[email protected]

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