Media Contact: Candice Francis / Communications Director, LCCR /  415.543.9697 x216 /
Doyle Park Elementary School, where Latino children make up two-thirds of the student body, will remain open for 2012 to 2013 school year, thanks to a lawsuit filed by a community-based coalition that included the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.
The Santa Rosa school board’s decision to keep the school open is part of a settlement it reached last May with parents, students and teachers who objected to the closure and sued to prevent it.
Aside from keeping the school open for Grades 1 to 6, the settlement stipulates that the campus will be shared with the French immersion charter school and that the school district will amend its policies to “promote racial equality and ethnic balance.” The district will also explore the feasibility of a Spanish-language dual immersion school for 2013 to 2014 school year.
The school board tried to shut down Doyle Park and turn over its facilities to the French American Charter School, citing low test scores, declining enrollment, and an operating deficit of $180,000. It claimed the closure would save the district $400,000, while the charter school would bring in increased funding by way of future grants and endowments.
The Doyle Park Committee for Education Equity sued the board and the schools superintendent in Sonoma County Superior Court last April. Private lawyers Edie Sussman and David Grabill, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, the California Rural Legal Assistance and attorneys from Ropes & Gray law firm represented the committee.
The lawsuit argued that the closure was illegal and would have a disproportionate negative impact on Latino children who make up 73 percent of the school’s 240 students.
Plaintiffs accused the school board of discriminating against students from lower income minority families in favor of a charter school that is likely to serve students from higher earning white families.
It also argued the because the school board was essentially converting a public school into a charter school, it needed to fulfill certain requirements but didn’t–such as the required petition signed by at least 50 percent of the school’s teachers.
Plaintiffs further charged that a board member who announced his intention to send his two children to the charter school had a conflict of interest.
Also, the lawsuit contended that the board violated the Brown Act because at least four of its members met privately to discuss the closure before the seven-member body voted on it.
The Lawyers’ Committee also sought public records, communications, and documents related to the closure from the board and the superintendent.
Faced with the strong legal challenge, the school board agreed to settle.
Cecilia Chen, Lawyers’ Committee Thurgood Marshall Fellow, says similar legal actions could increase, as financially strapped public school authorities may try to make ends meet by resorting to closures at the expense of lower-income minorities.
“Other similar cases are already coming up because with the budget crisis, public school districts are also trying to make money by putting up charter schools,” Chen adds. “But charter schools are supposed to be an ‘option’ for students, not a money-making alternative to public schools.”
She said fighting such attempts is a challenge because school districts have wide discretion in deciding whether to close a school and there is no law in the books right now that explicitly prohibits public school districts from opening charter schools based on money-making goals.
“We will fight those attempts as part of our commitment to equality in education, as mandated by Brown v. Board of Education,” says Kimberly Thomas Rapp, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee.