January 25, 2016

If this school district wins, students lose

By If this school district wins, students lose

SchoolChoice11Small

In celebration of National School Choice Week, this post is one of many that will appear here on the Liberty Blog this week by PLF attorneys who are litigating cases in support of school choice.  This post provides the latest information about Anderson Union High School District v. Shasta Secondary Home School, which I first wrote about here.

First, some background. In 2011, it was reported that California had the most failing schools in the nation. One cause, according to an earlier court decision, was an overall school administration bureaucracy, that the court described as “the complex tangle of rules sustaining our public school system. This system “sap[ped] creativity and innovation, thwart[ed] accountability, and undermine[d] the effective education of our children.”

The California Legislature sought to disrupt entrenchment of these traits within the educational bureaucracy by encouraging the establishment of charter schools. The California Charter Schools Act, as amended, has seven goals: (1) improve pupil learning; (2) increase learning opportunities, especially for low achieving students; (3) encourage use of different and innovative teaching methods; (4) create new professional opportunities for teachers, including being responsible for the school site learning program; (5) provide parents and students with more choices in the public school system; (6) hold schools accountable for measurable pupil outcomes and providing a way to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems; and (7) provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools.

The Legislature also enacted laws to encourage the development of nonclassroom-based distance learning. Distance learning uses technology to allow students and teachers to interact from different locations. The Legislature encourages public school districts to employ distance learning in rural areas, so that each California child has “equal access to educational opportunities, regardless of where he or she lives.”

Shasta Charter Academy offers the best of both educational worlds. It is a successful nonclassroom-based charter school offering personalized instruction for each of its students in grades 7-12, which includes distance learning. The school is headquartered in Shasta County, authorized by the Shasta Union High School District.  In order to provide essential resources to its nonclassroom-based students, the charter school opened a resource center in the unincorporated Shasta County town of Cottonwood, within the borders of the Anderson Union High School District.  Anderson is another school district within Shasta County.

Here’s the problem: Many school districts are still hostile to charter schools, and one of them is Anderson.  Anderson just can’t seem to accept the idea of Shasta Charter Academy operating a resource center within its district boundaries. Why? Probably because it feared its students would defect to the innovative nonclassroom-based teaching curriculum offered by the charter school and take state student attendance money with them. So it sued the charter school to force the closure of the one-room resource center.

The Anderson school district had its day in court – and lost. The trial court examined all applicable California Education Code sections and found no law or policy prohibiting Shasta Charter Academy from operating a resource center within the Anderson school district’s boundaries. That lower court’s favorable decision is here.   But Anderson appealed to the California Third District Court of Appeal. Briefing is complete and the parties are waiting for the court to announce the date of oral argument.

California’s educational policies, goals, and objectives concerning nonclassroom-based charter schools are supported by scholarly research. A ruling by the court of appeal that adversely affects the operation of Shasta Charter Academy will negatively impact the education of students in Shasta County, and may also provide legal precedent that may be used to attack other charter schools. We filed a brief with the court addressing those concerns.

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