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Petition from Fairview Heights residents who want out of East St. Louis schools dismissed

The Regional Board of School Trustees of St. Clair County Thursday night granted a motion to dismiss a petition from a group of residents in Fairview Heights who want to detach from East St. Louis School District 189 and annex into Grant Community Consolidated School District 110 and Belleville Township High School District 201.

Residents of the French Village neighborhood filed their petition with the regional board through their attorney Dan Grueninger in January in pursuit of a decades-long goal of having the community’s children attend lllini Elementary School, Grant Middle School and Belleville East instead of East St. Louis schools.

Kevin Sheridan, who co-founded the “Detach 189” committee in 2016, said the primary reason the group wants out of District 189 is they believe their children can get a better education at the other schools.

The group may either appeal the decision to dismiss the petition or file another petition no sooner than two years from now, according to the Illinois School Code.

Sheridan said he hopes the committee will forego the appeal and instead reduce the detachment area. He said that will allow them to file a new petition sooner than two years, potentially by mid-summer.

“Of course we are disappointed with the decision,” he said, but “I’m not willing to give up right now.”

Grueninger declined to comment about the decision on behalf of the Fairview Heights residents.

East St. Louis 189, represented by attorney Garrett Hoerner, filed its motion to dismiss the petition in early October. Grant 110 and Belleville 201, both represented by attorney Eugene Hanses, later joined the motion to dismiss.

At the heart of the testimony given by each side Thursday night was whether the petition had the required number of valid signatures, whether East St. Louis filed its motion to dismiss in a timely manner and whether the petitioners were allowed to amend the petition in response to the motion to dismiss.

After listening to the arguments for more than an hour, the regional board of school trustees went into closed session to deliberate before coming back with its decision. They ultimately decided that the petition lacked the proper signatures and is therefore invalid.

“We find the petition submitted fails to establish the number of required signatures to establish a jurisdictional threshold and, further, that the petition has insufficient signatures to meet the minimum signature requirements of two-thirds of the owners of record or registered voters within the area to be detached or annexed. The respondent’s motion to dismiss is granted over the objection of the petitioners.”

HISTORY

This isn’t the first time the French Village residents have endeavored to part ways with East St. Louis schools.

In February 2002, 438 registered voters comprising 457 properties in the area of Fairview Heights filed a petition to detach from East St. Louis 189 and annex to Grant 110 and Belleville 201, according to the decision text from the Fifth District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon where the matter was later concluded.

In March of that year, East St. Louis 189 and Grant 110 filed requests for dismissal of the petition, which the regional board of school trustees denied. The board voted unanimously in support of the petition after the petition hearing the following month.

While Belleville 201 remained neutral, Grant 110 and East St. Louis 189 later filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of St. Clair County. The court affirmed the board’s decision, but Grant 110 and East St. Louis 189 then filed notices for appeal.

In August 2004, the appellate court overturned the circuit court’s judgment because the detachment would have caused “substantial detriment” to Grant 110, which would have faced an overcrowding problem, and East St. Louis 189, which said the detachment would “significantly risk” the district’s ongoing financial recovery.

A few years prior in 1997, however, a group of 36 homeowners around Kassing Drive in Fairview Heights successfully detached from East St. Louis 189 and annexed to Grant 10 and Belleville 201, according to past reporting by the Belleville News-Democrat.

And in the early 2000s, a section of Fairmont City west of Illinois 111 also detached from East St. Louis 189 and annexed to Collinsville 10, despite both districts putting up a legal fight that ended up in the Illinois Supreme Court.