Santa Rosa school board settles lawsuit challenging Doyle Park school closure
By MARTIN ESPINOZA
You can read the original article at The Press Democrat.
Santa Rosa school officials have settled a lawsuit challenging the closure of Doyle Park Elementary School by agreeing to keep the school open for one year.
The school, which has a high Latino enrollment, was to be closed at the end of the current school year in part to make way for a newly created French American Charter School. But now, both schools are expected to share the campus in the fall.
Doyle Park supporters had claimed in court that that the closure and opening of a new school constituted an improper conversion of a public school to a charter school under state rules. The lawsuit also claimed that the “conversion” would hurt Latino students.
The settlement was signed Monday by school board president Larry Haenel and announced Monday evening.
“The settlement is a win-win,” Haenel said. “Those who filed the lawsuit get to keep Doyle Park open for one year.”
He said the settlement avoids a protracted legal battle that “would have siphoned off even more of our district’s precious funds needed for our children’s education.”
School officials said they would continue to assess Doyle Park’s future beyond next year.
At a press conference held in front of the Doyle Park campus Tuesday, Doyle Park supporters, including a handful of teachers and students, cheered the settlement.
“I’m really happy and excited,” said Jessica Nares, a Doyle Park 5th grader. “I get to finish the 6th grade and go to camp next year.”
Both Doyle Park and the new French charter school, which was approved by the school board last December, will share nearly all the facilities at the campus except for the kindergarten playground, which will be reserved for the charter school.
Under the agreement, the total number of Doyle Park students cannot exceed 180. Also, a class will be deemed “under-enrolled” if it attracts fewer than 18 students in each of grades 1, 2, and 3, or fewer than 25 students for grades 4, 5, and 6.
Notices informing Doyle Park parents that they can enroll their children for the 2012-13 school year were sent home Tuesday. School officials said parents are being asked to respond by no later than June 7.
In its suit, Doyle Park supporters claimed that school officials violated the state education code covering conversion of public schools into charter schools and the action was harmful to its Latino students. The district, however, rejected thes claim and said it was not technically converting Doyle Park into a charter school.
School officials have said that Doyle Park was closed because of declining enrollment and a resulting financial shortfall. Haenel said Doyle Park’s students would be better served at “higher performing” neighboring elementary schools.
The group challenging the closure, the Doyle Park Committee for Educational Equity, was represented by a team of attorneys that included two local public interest attorneys, California Rural Legal Assistance, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and the San Francisco law offices of Ropes & Gray.
The agreement stipulates that each party in the legal case will “bear its own costs and fees.”
Roy Miller, a Santa Rosa attorney representing the founders of the French charter school, said his clients were “excited” that the litigation is settled.
The district also agreed to amend its school closure policy to include language that calls for promoting “racial and ethnic balance.” School officials also agreed to “fast track” the feasibility of a Spanish language dual immersion charter school and, if created, to find an appropriate site for it.
“This is a victory for the community,” said Michaele Morales, a Doyle Park supporter. “It’s not been decided what’s going to happen in the fall of 2013.”
Morales and other Doyle Park supporters said they were confident that they could get many of the current Doyle Park students to return for the next school year.
About 240 students were enrolled at Doyle Park during the current school year. School officials said that many of these students have been reassigned to one of three surrounding elementary campuses in the Santa Rosa school district.
Edie Sussman, a Santa Rosa attorney representing Doyle Park supporters, said she believed many students would choose to return to Doyle Park.
“We wouldn’t have spent this much time and effort if we weren’t moved by the immense feelings in this community to keep their school going,” Sussman said.