According to ABC News and some website called dadsdivorce.com, Vermont is the worst place to get a divorce.

Stowe would know.

Last spring, Stoweites overwhelmingly voted to withdraw from the merged Lamoille South Unified Union School District, an arranged marriage of educational governance lumping Stowe, Morristown and Elmore into one school district, forced three years ago by the Vermont State Board of Education.

Stowe held its vote in early May and waited more than half a year for voters in the other two towns to perform their statutory duty and decide whether to allow Stowe to leave.

Morristown was in no hurry, content to wait until next Town Meeting Day in March, where it wouldn’t incur the cost of a special election. However, Elmore, spurred by a petition of its own calling for that town to also leave the merged district, was forced to hold a vote, and decided to include the ratification of Stowe’s earlier vote on the Dec. 7 ballot.

Officials in Morristown grumbled that they were also being forced to ratify Stowe’s decision — Act 46 requires all other towns in a merged district voting to ratify another town’s withdrawal to do so on the same day — but held the vote, nonetheless. The town went further and added odd ballot bedfellows that ended up approving retail cannabis and disapproving all-terrain vehicles from using town roads.

For some in Morristown, the state forcing them to ratify Stowe’s decision carried a familiar whiff of Montpelier overreach, since the state forced Stowe to join the Elmore-Morristown school district in the first place.

The Vermont State Board of education, in late 2018, passed a statewide education plan that forced several small school districts that had not voluntarily merged with neighboring towns to do so involuntarily. On an appeal, the decision forcing Stowe to merge was 5-4, with the board chair breaking the tie.

The vote was a shock to many. It came after Stowe residents felt confident that the “alternative governance structure” — which is government speak for “same old, same old” — proposal that the three Lamoille South towns prepared had been accepted by the Agency of Education. The Lamoille South Supervisory Union fought the decision in court and local lawmakers spoke out against it during the 2019 legislative session, but the efforts failed, and the new merged district officially took over in 2019.

Now, the case for Stowe’s departure moves from the town level to the state, right back to the political body that narrowly forced it to merge in the first place. Now, however, there’s only one person on the board who was there in 2018, and he voted to let Stowe stay independent.

Clouding the entire proceedings, Stowe has received dueling legal opinions on whether Act 46 allows towns to leave forced mergers — the Agency of Education lawyers say no, the law as currently drafted doesn’t allow for that; the town’s lawyers say yes, a different part of that same law does allow for it.

Clear as mud. That’s been a refrain from town and school officials all year.

While the proponents of merger dissolution say the needs of Stowe’s children are not being met by a seven-person school board representing three towns and a central office dedicated to providing equitable resources for all students, education officials are largely keeping their heads down and keeping the dissolution drama in the background.

There’s learning to be done. There’s a pandemic going on. As many parents who get divorced will tell you, the most important thing is making sure the kids are safe, shielded from the world of adult matters. The new superintendent of schools, Ryan Heraty, frequently emphasizes that point when asked that all-important, elusive question: What’s next?

After a year of questions with no answers — variations on “what’s next?” — 2022 might be the year for those answers. It remains to be seen whether the answer will be the one Stowe residents want to hear.

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