ashland.news
June 14, 2024

Concerned parents, grandmother file lawsuit against Ashland School District

Alex Sol, an Ashland School District parent, reads a statement to the media during a press conference in Ashland on May 29, 2024, announcing his intent to sue the school district and the Oregon Department of Education over allegations both entities have failed to keep students safe from an active shooter. At left is Sol's wife, Natalie. Rogue Valley Times photo by Jamie Lusch
June 4, 2024

Plaintiffs ask judge to compel school district to improve school safety, review 2018 bond measure passed by voters

By Kevin Opsahl, Rogue Valley Times

A group of concerned parents and a grandmother with children in the Ashland School District filed a lawsuit Monday against the school district and the Oregon Department of Education, alleging the agencies are failing to guard against an active shooter scenario.

Husband and wife Alex and Natalie Sol, the parent and stepparent, respectively, of two school district children, and Marianna Zimmitti, the children’s grandmother, asked a Jackson County Circuit Court judge to provide several legal remedies to compel the school district, Bellview Elementary School, Ashland Middle School, the state and its education department to improve school safety.

In addition, the lawsuit — which also names the Sol children as plaintiffs — asks a judge to order a public accounting and formal review of Ashland School District Bond Measure 15-178, passed by voters in 2018.

Acting under a coalition called Parents Demanding School Shooting Safety, the Sols and Zimmitti issued a prepared statement along with their court filing.

“Schools have always lacked the necessary safety measures to protect against the grave danger presented by school shooters,” the statement said. “Today, we have taken the initial step towards ensuring accountability and forging a proactive path towards preventive solutions.”

The filing follows a news conference Wednesday, when the Sols and Zimmitti announced their intention to sue the school district and the state education department. 

The ODE said in an email Tuesday it does not respond to pending legal matters, and the school district’s attorney, Nancy Hungerford, said her firm is not representing the school district in the case.

In their lawsuit, the Sols and Zimmitti asked a judge to find that the school district failed to properly apply the bond funds toward improving school safety. They asked that the school district ensures the bond money is being spent the way it was intended.

The group would also like a judge to order an assessment of school safety protocols, which, they added, might include reinforced hard corners and installing polycarbonate bulletproof glass in all windows and doors — the same tools Alex Sol offers via his nonprofit, Safe Zone Solution, or SZS.

The Sols and Zimmitti requested additional school safety protocols to be implemented, such as a panic alarm system and drill exercises for students and staff members. Audits of every classroom to ensure safeguards to protect against an active shooter should also be required, the lawsuit said.

A review of bond expenses should be done, in part, to “hold accountable any persons, departments, agencies, and entities that wrongfully received Bond Measure funding not reasonably related to improving” school safety, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit cites state statute that requires all schools to instruct and drill students on emergency procedures, including safety threats. The Sols and Zimmitti allege that ODE is “failing to provide relevant threat-specific safety features” for its schools, allowing any classroom to become a “safety hazard.”

The lawsuit singles out the schools attended by Alex Sols’ children and makes several allegations against district officials regarding safety protocols. 

The Sols and Zimmitti allege that they discovered Bellview Elementary School and Ashland Middle School “open and unlocked” four years after the bond was passed.

While the lawsuit does not go into detail about security issues with the middle school, it does allege district officials failed to secure and lock the front door vestibule entryways to Bellview.

An unnamed Bellview employee quoted in the lawsuit allegedly told at least one concerned parent that her school was not given a panic button.

“Even if I saw a shooter approaching the front door from my office … I would be unable to keep the attacker out of the school,” the employee said.

The lawsuit noted that additional defendants with ties to the school district might be named at a later time, which might lead the Sols and Zimmitti to amend their court filing.

Court records showed Tuesday that neither the district nor ODE had been officially notified of the lawsuit.

Reporter Kevin Opsahl can be reached at 458-488-2034 or kopsahl@rv-times.com. This story first appeared in the Rogue Valley Times.

June 5: This story has been corrected to reflect that Oregon City-based Hungerford Law Firm is not representing the school district in this matter. It also has been corrected to reflect that the Sols and Zimmitti are suing only the school district over the application of bond funds.

Related articles:

Prospective lawsuit calls for improved school defenses against school shooters (May 29, 2024)

Phoenix-Talent School Board discusses proposal for bullet-resistant buildings (Rogue Valley Times, March 13, 2024)

School safety nonprofit held demonstration on Ashland Plaza on Saturday (Oct. 15, 2023)

Ashland parents’ new nonprofit pushes for bulletproof schools (July 18, 2023)

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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