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Court Endorses Balanced Approach in Responding to Charter Facilities Requests

  • July 02, 2015

July 02, 2015

In a recent decision, Westchester Secondary Charter School v. Los Angeles Unified School District(June 19, 2015, B261234) ___ Cal.App.4th ___ [14 C.D.O.S. 6555], the Court of Appeal recognized that Proposition 39 is not intended to put charter schools in a privileged position by requiring school districts to provide charters with the specific location or geographic location listed in a facilities request.  Putting charter school students’ needs over other district students’ needs is unfair; instead, school districts should balance the needs of all of their students.  The court explained that Education Code section 47614 only requires school districts to expend reasonable efforts to place a charter school near its desired location.  Based on the court’s discussion, whether a district’s efforts are “reasonable” and whether the offered space is “near” the desired location will depend on facts specific to each situation.

Westchester Secondary Charter School (“WSCS”) made a facilities request to Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”) identifying and ranking specific facilities in order of preference.  The facilities request also stated that WSCS would consider locations reasonably close to Westchester, the neighborhood where WSCS was currently using church space for its operations.  After receiving facilities requests from 78 eligible charter schools (17 of which requested the same space as WSCS), LAUSD proceeded to assess and resolve the competing requests according to its “matching guidelines.”  The court agreed with LAUSD’s approach, stating, “the District must consider the impact on other public school students, both those attending District schools and those attending other charter schools requesting space.”  (Westchester, supra, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ [14 C.D.O.S. at 6559].)  After weighing the impacts to other charter schools and public school students, LAUSD ultimately offered WSCS space at Crenshaw, 2.53 miles from the perimeter of Westchester and approximately 7 miles from WSCS’s specifically identified locations.  WSCS believed that it should have received an offer for one of the specifically requested locations, or an offer for space within the neighborhood of Westchester.

However, after a detailed analysis of LAUSD’s process for resolving the competing requests, the court upheld LAUSD’s decision to offer space at Crenshaw.  First, the court determined that the space at Crenshaw was near WSCS’s requested locations; “near” is a flexible term that depends on context.  Here, where LAUSD covers over 700 square miles, the 2.53 mile or 7 mile distance is “near” the locations requested and the geographic area requested.  Additionally, LAUSD had used reasonable efforts in balancing, including such factors as:  whether space would be fully utilized, whether other charter schools would have to be unnecessarily moved, whether specific programs would be impacted by a reshuffle, and whether facilities were open or closed to district students.  The court did not offer these considerations as a checklist for “reasonable efforts,” but it did emphasize the importance of balancing the interests of all public school students without favoring one group over the other.

To discuss this case further, or if you have any questions, please contact a DWK attorney.

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