For the supporters of the "students Doe" in the redistricting lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District, the legal fight is all about a grassroots campaign and uniting the community.
On Friday night, Oct. 22, LMVUE, a nonprofit organization supporting the plaintiffs, held their fourth spaghetti dinner fundraiser to help pay legal fees for the case. The group drew a steady stream of supporters from Ardmore and surrounding neighborhoods to St. Mary's Episcopal Church on Ardmore Avenue for the event. Saxbys Coffee donated brownies and Panera donated bread for the meal, but the main attraction was the pasta, served up by former Ardmore restaurateurs Chris Milani and Claudio Mazzoni.
The two chefs used to run Pasta Milani, an Italian take-out restaurant in Ardmore. On Friday, the chefs whipped up some pasta dishes including penne alla vodka and spaghetti and meatballs.
"We are supporting the students' legal right to fight," Milani said. The case, which alleges that the school district inappropriately used race as a factor in redistricting decisions, is currently being appealed to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals after the district court judge ruled against the plaintiffs.
Milani is one of the founding members of LMVUE, and said that the group thought of the idea to have a spaghetti fundraiser to help raise the money to keep the court case moving forward. In the process, Milani and others said that the events and others like it have brought the community closer together.
"It's a great community event," Milani said. "I've gotten to know a lot of people I didn't know before, or I didn't know well. And now we'll see each other when we're out at Linwood Park or around town."
Lyn Brandsma, another member of LMVUE, also said that she believes the redistricting has united the community. "Since the verdict (in the district court), I think people have been even more involved," Brandsma said. The district court judge ruled that the school district did use race as one of several factors in making their redistricting decisions, but said that in his opinion the school district did not violate any laws. The plaintiff's legal counsel, Villanova attorney David Arnold, challenged the decision by submitting an appeal to a higher court.
While the case progresses, members of LMVUE continue to devote their efforts to raising funds and support for the plaintiffs, who are asking the school district to restore choice of high school to the South Ardmore neighborhoods affected. "It's easy to take things for granted," Milani said. "We wanted to raise money to help."