A Knott County school that would have closed this week after the Kentucky education commissioner expressed safety concerns about the building will remain open under a judge’s order.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd filed a restraining order Wednesday directing that the Cordia School remain open.
The school, which is in an area that is relatively isolated from the rest of the mountainous county, has about 230 students in grades kindergarten through 12. It is owned by a non-profit organization called Lotts Creek Community School Inc., which leases the building to the Knott County Board of Education.
The county board provides teachers and other staff for the school.
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State education Commissioner Stephen L. Pruitt withdrew his approval for the lease in mid-January because of safety concerns based on conditions at Cordia.
Pruitt cited problems that included damage to the roof of the multi-purpose room that created a risk of collapse; fire-safety and electrical problems; inadequate water pressure; food-safety violations; the failure of a heating unit; and structural failure of the gym foundation and wall.
Pruitt directed the Knott County school board to move Cordia students to other county schools after Feb. 2.
Parents expressed concern that having to move to other schools during the academic year would be disruptive and mean long bus rides for many students.
Cordia’s owner also said that it had made or arranged to make repairs, but that Pruitt had not allowed enough time for the school to finish.
The school and two parents sued seeking a court order to block Pruitt and the Knott County board from moving students.
Shepherd said in his order that there is a significant question on whether Pruitt has authority to approve the lease between the Knott County school board and Lotts Creek, and if he has authority to withdraw approval without due process for Cordia’s owner.
Pruitt and the state Education Department did not provide an opportunity to be heard to Lotts Creek or others affected by the closure of the school, Shepherd said.
Shepherd said he shares Pruitt’s concern over safety issues at the school, but noted an official from the state Fire Marshal’s Office said Cordia is working to fix problems.
If the school fails to resolve the safety concerns, the state Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction can pursue a process of closing the building to the public, Shepherd noted.
The judge also said an engineer concluded the damaged roof of the multi-purpose area at the school does not represent a safety issue as long as people stay out of the area.
Shepherd scheduled a hearing Feb. 14 on a longer-term injunction. The school will stay open at least through then.
There could also be arguments that day on dissolving the restraining order.