Appellate Court Reaffirms - School Districts Are Not Obligated to Place Charter Schools Exactly Where They Desire to Locate to Satisfy Proposition 39

July 6, 2015 | Bulletin No. 1271645.1

In Westchester Secondary Charter School v. Los Angeles Unified School District, et. al. (June 19, 2015, B261234) --- Cal.App.4th ---, the California Court of Appeal found in favor of the Los Angeles Unified School District ("District") and reaffirmed that school districts are only required to make reasonable efforts to place charter schools near to where they desire to locate in order to satisfy the Proposition 39 obligation.

Decision

While the Court recognized that "near" is a flexible concept and not defined in the Proposition 39 statutory/regulatory scheme, it looked to the prior Court of Appeal decision Los Angeles International Charter High School v. Los Angeles Unified School District for guidance.  In that case the court found that three miles outside the charter school's desired area was "near" for purposes of the Proposition 39 requirement.  The Court therefore determined that if three miles outside the desired area is near, than the 2.53 miles outside the desired area offered by the District was also near.  As a result, the Court concluded that the District did offer the Charter School facilities near to its desired location.

In reaching this conclusion the Court reaffirmed that Proposition 39 does not require school districts to place charter schools exactly where they wish to locate, but only requires reasonable efforts to place them near to their desired location.  The Court reasoned that this is especially the case "if doing so would favor charter school students over other district students" – emphasizing that Proposition 39 requires that facilities be shared fairly among all public school students, including those in charter schools.

As part of the case, the Charter School, citing to Ridgecrest Charter School v. Sierra Sands Unified School District, asserted that the District was obligated to move a District program off of a District site where the Charter School desired to locate in order to meet Proposition 39 obligations.  In Ridgecrest, the court previously found that Proposition 39 seemed to "contemplate some disruption and dislocation" of district students and programs in order to fairly accommodate a charter school's facilities request.  The Court in the present case, however, distinguished Ridgecrest pointing out that the school district in that case had not at all complied with its obligation to provide reasonably equivalent, contiguous facilities, so it was required to consider some disruption and dislocation of its own programs to accommodate the charter school's request for facilities. "The Ridgecrest school district's offer of classrooms at five different sites separated by 65 miles hardly compares to the District's offer in this case for space at a single campus 2.53 miles away from the desired area."

The Court then concluded that when a school district's offer already satisfies the obligation to provide facilities near to where the charter school desires to locate, it is not required to consider even more disruption and dislocation to other students in order to provide the charter school with the exact location where it desires to locate.  Proposition 39 requires that school districts treat charter school and district students fairly, it does not favor one group over the other.

What This Means to You

It is important to remember that a court's determination of whether you satisfied your obligation to make reasonable efforts to provide a charter school with facilities near to where it expressed desire to locate will be based on the fact specific circumstances of your school district.  What is clear, no matter what your circumstances, is that you are not obligated to offer a charter school the exact location or locations it requested in order to meet your Proposition 39 obligations, provided you make reasonable efforts to place the charter school near to their desired location and are satisfying your obligation to provide reasonably equivalent, contiguous facilities.

Questions

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William Schuetz | 916.321.4200