By Callie Hietala
The Martinsville City School Board is not and has not discussed an injunction in the city’s reversion process, according to board chairman Donna Dillard.
She was responding to a recent report suggesting that the school board could be using a closed-session meeting, originally scheduled for August 31 but since rescheduled for September 2, to explore legal options by which to file an injunction on reversion. That same report seemed to suggest that the school board had recently retained outside legal counsel—Lindsay Brubaker of BotkinRose PLC—perhaps to pursue legal action on the reversion process. That firm has been council to the board “for at least the last 10 or 15 years,” Dillard said.
After the council and Henry County Board of Supervisors voted on the Voluntary Settlement of Town Status agreement, Dillard said wrote in a statement that “in Martinsville City Schools, our focus has always been and continues to be on the best interests of our students. We will continue to maintain this focus, even in this time of uncertainty.
When issuing her statement, Dillard said, in part, that “The Martinsville City School Board is not a party to that agreement and has not received an approved copy of this agreement. My priority is to ensure that the needs of our students and staff continue to be met, in accordance with our legal obligations as a public body.
“Our focus is on education. We will continue to educate our students and are committed to open dialogue to promote understanding and reassurance in our school communities,” Dillard wrote.
She said the council has not discussed the reversion process with schools.
“We’re willing to meet with them, and I think they’re willing to meet with us,” Dillard said, “We just have a difference of opinion on where and how” that meeting will take place.
Dillard said the school board wants a meeting that is open to the public.
“We want an open session. We have nothing to hide from the public.” City council, she said, has asked to meet in closed session.
“It’s inaccurate to say that city council hasn’t discussed reversion with the school board,” said Stephen Piepgrass, an attorney representing the City of Martinsville in the reversion proceedings.
He noted that, before documents were filed initiating the reversion process, the city commissioned a study in 2018 which included a number of components, one of which was a study on schools in which the division participated. He added that the city and school jointly discussed reversion in several joint budget meetings, and that the school board has been kept updated on the process in multiple closed-session briefings. While the school board has no formal role, representatives have been invited to participate in the mediation.
Piepgrass said the city’s request for a closed-session meeting is due to confidentiality concerns imposed by Virginia law.
“Mediations on reversion matters are specifically to be held confidentially to have open and candid discussion,” he said.