July 14, 2010

PLF joins Rowland Heights parents and Sen. Huff in brief for school choice

By PLF joins Rowland Heights parents and Sen. Huff in brief for school choice

LOS ANGELES COUNTY, July 14, 2010 — In a legal brief just filed, Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) represents concerned parents living in Rowland Unified School District, and one of the California Legislature’s leading champions of school choice, state Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), in arguing against an unreasonably restrictive interpretation of the state’s District of Choice law.

This 17-year-old law, which allows parents to send their children to any participating district without going through the cumbersome interdistrict transfer-permit process, was co-authored, in its 2009 re-authorization, by Sen. Huff.

The friend of the court brief was officially filed this week at the state Second District Court of Appeal, based in Los Angeles. It was submitted in support of the Walnut Valley Unified School District, which is defendant in a lawsuit brought by the neighboring Rowland Unified School District.

Walnut Valley has participated in the District of Choice program since 1994. The District of Choice Act allows parents and guardians to transfer their children to a neighboring school district without seeking permission of the district where they reside. However, Rowland Unified seeks to block Walnut Valley from accepting any more students from within Rowland Unified’s boundaries.

Lawsuit seeks to arbitrarily limit transfers, contrary to the law’s intent

Rowland is depending on a provision of the District of Choice law that authorizes a limitation or cap on the number of pupils transferring to 10 percent of the average daily attendance. Rowland argues that it should count every student who ever transferred from Rowland under the program, meaning that once the 10 percent cap is reached, no further transfers can ever occur.

"Rowland’s interpretation of the District of Choice Act is unjustifiably restrictive and contradicts the law’s history and intent," said PLF Principal Attorney Sharon Browne. PLF’s brief points to the legislative history of the District of Choice Act to show that the cap is a year-by-year calculation. "Interpreting the 10 percent provision to be a ‘rolling’ cap is much more consistent with legislative history and makes good sense because students graduate, move to another school district, enroll in private school, drop out of school, or return to their school districts of residence.

"The District of Choice Act was adopted to empower parents with the ability to choose the best schools that meet the educational needs for their children, thereby giving them a better opportunity for success," Browne continued.    "It wasn't intended to provide a mechanism whereby school districts of residence hold students hostage to a zip code, an attendance zone assignment, or a low performing school."

PLF and the parties it represents in filing this brief

Pacific Legal Foundation is a legal watchdog organization for limited government and individual rights, and one of the country’s leading litigators on behalf of school choice.

PLF Principal Attorney Sharon Browne issued this statement:

"Rowland Unified’s lawsuit isn’t just wrong as a matter of law, it represents bad educational policy and unfair treatment of children and families. Rowland is trying to derail the District of Choice Act’s long tradition of empowering parents to choose the best educational options for their children. Rowland is essentially trying to hold students hostage in the schools, based upon the zip codes where they reside."

"Walnut Valley schools have been recognized for excellence by both the California State Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education," Ms. Browne noted. "Walnut Valley’s participation as a District of Choice has undoubtedly played a part in its rise to national excellence, and the district should not be barred from continued involvement in such a beneficial program."

The parents who have signed onto the friend-of-the-court brief are organized as Parents for Choice.

Parents for Choice is an unincorporated association that includes families who have applied to have their children attend schools in the Walnut Valley School District through the District of Choice Act.

Johannah Kamanta is spokesperson for Parents for Choice.

She and her husband have two children currently attending school in the Walnut Valley Unified School District on a District of Choice permit. She issued this statement: "The parents in our association are fighting for the freedom to choose the school that best meets the educational needs of our children. Having the choice of where our children go to school is crucial to their academic success because when it comes to education, one size does not fit all.

"My husband and I thoughtfully selected the Walnut Valley Unified School District for our children based on the district’s proven track record of providing outstanding kindergarten through 12th grade instruction to all of its students. My children are thriving academically, and we are very satisfied with the choice we made.

"Unless the District of Choice Act is protected and enforced, the children of the parents in our association, as well as countless other children, will be forced to enroll in unfamiliar schools, forced to enroll in schools with uncertain outcomes, and denied access to exceptional educational opportunities which exist outside of our school district. All parents should be allowed to decide which school their children should attend, including enrolling them in the Walnut Valley Unified School District."

Sen. Bob Huff issued this statement: "For nearly two decades, the District of Choice program has empowered parents to choose a public school that best meets the needs of their children. I am hopeful that our court system will uphold the tradition of strengthening the parents’ role in education, instead of eroding it."

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The lawsuit in which the friend of the court brief was filed is Rowland Unified School District v. Walnut Valley Unified School District, et. al. The brief may be seen here.

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