St. Joseph's Episcopal School in Boynton Beach launches legal fight to remain on property

School has occupied property for more than 30 years 
St. Joseph Episcopal Church.PNG
Posted at 11:58 AM, May 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-16 18:23:42-04

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — The fight to keep a Boynton Beach private school open on neighboring church property may be heading to the courts.

Officials who represent St. Joseph's Episcopal School announced Saturday that it is a plaintiff in a 14-count complaint for injunctive relief and damages against St. Joseph's Episcopal Church.

Representatives of the church recently informed parents that SJES will close at the end of the school year, leaving families in limbo.

William C. Swaney, a longtime benefactor of the school and current president of the SJES board of trustees, is the other plaintiff in the complaint.

William C. Swaney, longtime benefactor at St. Joseph’s Episcopal School
"It's hurtful. I mean I've given almost $10 million to the church and almost $6 million to the school, and so it's very hurtful for me to go through this," William C. Swaney said. "It's not a pleasant situation."

"Today's filing is a reply to the cold, calculated and misguided plan by St. Joseph's Episcopal Church to displace 175 students and approximately 40 faculty from the property the school has called home for the last 64 years," Swaney said in a statement. "It is unconscionable that a church would do this to children, its school family and the community of Boynton Beach."

Representatives of the school, which has been open since 1958, contend that the church is in breach of a verbal agreement made in 1994.

Swaney said he gave the church 50,000 shares of his stock in Perrigo Company in exchange for the promise that SJEC would never displace the school from the premises — at least for a minimum of 99 years.

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They are seeking damages in excess of $5 million against the church along with injunctive relief and other relief.

The plaintiffs have also demanded a trial by jury.

Families are also planning to speak at Tuesday's City Commission meeting in the hope of gaining the commission's support in the fight to not change the use of the property.

"I've been a member of that church since 1986. I love the church and love the school," Swaney told WPTV Monday. "In my wildest imagination, I would've never thought it would come to this, and we still don't know why that church wants to put our kids and teachers out on the streets. We have no idea. They have not let us know."

A mediation session that was scheduled for Tuesday was canceled.