California charter schools sue LAUSD after it banned them from many campuses

A battle over charter rights to use Los Angeles Unified school campuses has moved to court with the filing of a lawsuit Tuesday targeting a recently approved district policy.

The California Charter Schools Assn. alleges that LA Unified acted illegally when the Board of Education recently voted to restrict the location of charters as well as the classrooms they could use.

“Despite proposing to work collaboratively with the Board of Trustees on a new policy that would improve the campus sharing process, LAUSD ignored the voices and needs of charter school families and adopted a new policy aimed at harming their schools,” said Myrna Castrejón, president and director. executive of the chartered association. “The lawsuit comprehensively explains to the court how the policy is a direct violation of state law and should be struck down.”

Los Angeles Unified School District officials had no immediate comment on the lawsuit but maintained that their revised charter school policy was legal. Board of Education members said that, from the beginning, they had asked top administrators to develop a policy that would comply with laws governing charter schools. Supporters of the policy also said charters would continue to receive reasonable offers for space on campus.

The policy, passed by a vote of 4-3, prohibits the new location of charters on campuses with space needs or special programs. An initial staff estimate puts the number of affected campuses at nearly 350, but there is uncertainty about how the policy will be interpreted. The school system has approximately 850 campuses.

Charter advocates fear charters could be pushed out of areas where they currently operate, making it difficult for them to be viable. Another fear is that more charter schools will split among campuses, making them harder and more expensive to operate — and less convenient for parents.

Under this policy, district-operated campuses are exempt from new space-sharing agreements when a school has a program to help black students or when a school is among the most “fragile” due to low student achievement. Also exempt would be community schools, which integrate health services, counseling and other needs of students and their families. The state also designated some local charters as community schools, which the district policy does not address.

School board majority members said the new rules would protect needed space beyond normal allocations for classrooms, counselors, health staff and administrators — for example, tutoring rooms, enrichment or parent centers. These spaces had often been classified as unused or underutilized – then made available to charters.

Board Chairman Jackie Goldberg has repeatedly downplayed the impact the new policy will have on charter schools that already have sharing agreements.

The new rules also discourage placing charters where they could disrupt traditional feeder school models. Goldberg cited the example of a charter middle school on a district-run elementary campus. The charter school, she suggested, would have an unfair advantage in recruiting these elementary students, which would harm the local district-run middle school.

Access to public school campuses for charter schools is guaranteed by state law, and the lawsuit claims the new policy is illegal.

State laws “rely on the fact that public school facilities are paid for by taxpayers, so school districts hold them in trust for the use of public school students,” the lawsuit says. “The concept is that if students didn’t enroll in public charter schools, they would attend district-operated schools, so school districts would have had to have spaces for them already.”

Although they are privately operated, charter schools are free public schools that, in California, are supposed to be operated by a nonprofit organization. Most charters are not unionized.

Finding a place to do business – especially in Los Angeles’ expensive real estate market – has always been a challenge for charters, a factor that has led advocates to successfully lobby for the legal right to claim public school space at affordable rent.

Under state law, students enrolled in approved schools are entitled to learning conditions that are “reasonably equivalent” to those in district-operated schools.

The new policy is flawed, the lawsuit claims, because it presumes that charters are only entitled to “leftovers,” space the district doesn’t need after using all the other rooms and areas it does. a school or program would like.

In the current school year, 52 independent charters operate on 50 campuses, according to LA Unified. This year, 45 charters are seeking space, according to the charter association, a significant drop from the peak of more than 100. But even 50 schools would constitute one of the largest school systems in California.

In total, there are 221 district-authorized charters and another 25 county- or state-approved local charters, serving approximately 118,000 students, or 1 in 5 public school students within LA Unified’s boundaries. Most charters operate in their own private or rented buildings.

The Los Angeles school system has more charters than any other district in the country. Most were approved by pro-charter school boards and by state laws — since changed — that have made it difficult for school districts to reject charters.

The resolution that led to the new regulations — and which narrowly passed — was co-authored by Goldberg, who is not running for re-election in November, and Rocio Rivas, who is not yet up for re-election. This policy was also supported by George McKenna, who is not seeking another term, and by Scott Schmerelson, who faces a strong opponent.

As a result, changing political dynamics could affect Charter policy as well as legal challenges.

The school board adopted the charter policy on Feb. 13, but the founding association forced a redesign vote on March 16. because McKenna, 83, who was recovering from surgery, had not properly registered for the previous meeting from home.

March 16. McKenna could have voted from home but decided to attend in person, moving slowly, his shoulder surgically repaired in a sling.

Charter advocates took the opportunity to once again plead their case, but the outcome of the vote remained unchanged.

California Daily Newspapers

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