In 2012, residents of the Lancaster subdivision in Waukegan filed a petition with the Regional Board of School Trustees of Lake County to detach from the boundaries of their current school districts and annex into the boundaries of neighboring districts. The Regional Board denied the petition. The trial and appellate courts reversed the Regional Board’s decision, citing decreased travel times, petitioners’ connection to the annexing districts, and most surprisingly increased home values resulting from the detachment, thereby approving the detachment/annexation.

While multiple factors were addressed in this case, the Appellate Court focused on whether there would be an educational advantage to the Lancaster students in switching districts; travel distances and times from Lancaster to the desired schools; whether Lancaster has a community of interest with the City of Libertyville; the potential increase in Lancaster home values; and petitioners’ school preferences.

Contrary to testimony from the petitioners’ witnesses, the administrators from all of the affected school districts agreed that Lancaster students would receive a similar education regardless of whether the detachment petition was granted or denied. The Regional Board concluded that there would be no discernible academic detriment or benefit to the Lancaster students if the petition were granted, and the appellate court found these findings to be consistent with the manifest weight of the evidence.

The Court’s analysis of the other factors, however, led it to conclude that the Regional Board should have granted the petition. First, with regard to travel distance and time, the Appellate Court favored the petitioners based on the shorter distance (by 1.2 to 4.8 miles depending on the testimony) and the safer route to just one of the affected schools. The Court noted that a reduction in travel time by itself is not sufficient to justify granting a petition and that case law provides little guidance for determining how much less distance or travel time is a beneficial. 

The Court also emphasized petitioners’ testimony that they consider Libertyville their community of interest and their preference to associate with the Libertyville schools. The Court clarified that petitioners in a detachment proceeding must show only that they associate with the community of the annexing school districts. They do not need to provide evidence that students in the territory are not currently participating in school activities or that participation in school activities would increase from granting the detachment petition.

Finally, and most surprisingly, petitioners argued that detachment and annexation would increase their home values. The Appellate Court found this to be a legitimate factor to consider in relation to the petition.  The Court reasoned that case law does not preclude consideration of this issue and that increased property values could improve the educational programs and facilities in the annexing school district.

Ultimately, the Appellate Court ruled that because there was some benefit to the educational welfare of the students in Lancaster, the petition should be granted. This outcome is significant because it appears to provide new factors that may be considered in determining whether a detachment should be granted.

Laura Smith