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Developments on 2 fronts in Sweet Briar College's closure

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Sweet Briar College officials and opponents of its planned closure met Wednesday and promised to get together again later this month.

The meeting, which included a mediator and 25 people with ties to the closure, concluded with a joint statement and an agreement to meet again May 18. The statement described the closed session as a productive first step.

"We all agree that this conversation should continue in the days and weeks ahead as we seek the best possible resolution to this unfortunate situation," the statement read.

In a separate development, legislators seeking a state investigation of the private women's college closure this summer said their campaign had gained additional supporters in the General Assembly. More than 30 members of the House of Delegates and the Senate back the call for an investigation, Delegate Ben Cline said in a news release.

Citing "insurmountable" financial challenges, Sweet Briar leaders in March announced the school was closing in August.

The announcement almost immediately gave rise to a furious effort to reverse the decision. Students peacefully protested the decision on campus, and alumna launched a fundraising drive. The issue is also being debated in court.

Those attending the downtown Richmond meeting included attorneys representing the state, the college and Saving Sweet Briar Inc., among others.

Attorney General Mark Herring, who arranged the meeting, stopped by briefly to encourage participants to "work collaboratively to do what's best for the Sweet Briar community," a spokeswoman said.

Also attending was Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer, who sought an injunction to block the closure.

She has argued that charitable funds have been misused, and that closing the college would violate the terms of the will under which it was founded.

On April 15, a Circuit Court judge refused to grant the injunction but said Sweet Briar could not spend money raised for operating the college on the process of shutting it down.

Judge James W. Updike Jr. has also barred the college from selling or disposing of any assets for six months.

More than 84 faculty and 65 staff members have filed a friend-of-the-court motion supporting Bowyer's attempts to block the closure.

The investigation sought by Cline and three dozen other lawmakers focuses on Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant money allocated to Sweet Briar. Citing preliminary figures, Cline said about $770,000 was allocated to approximately 250 recipients this academic year.

Cline complained that the school "solicited and accepted" taxpayer dollars at the same time they were discussing its closure.

Herring's office said he is "committed to looking into the legislators' request."

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