Lawyers’ Committee, CRLA, Ropes & Gray File Suit Against Santa Rosa School Board Following Closure of Local School

Suit Alleges Conflict of Interest by Board Member

Media Contact: Suman Murthy / LCCR 415-543-9444 x218 /
SANTA ROSA, CA — Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (Lawyers’ Committee) and California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), along with Ropes & Gray LLP, have filed a suit to prevent the Santa Rosa School Board from illegally closing Doyle Park Elementary School.  This suit is being filed on behalf of the Doyle Park Committee for Education Equity (DPCEE), a community group comprised of concerned students, parents, teachers, and community members challenging the proposed closure in light of a clear conflict of interest by a school board member.  In addition to numerous violations of California law, the lawsuit alleges that school closure will also have a negative impact on Latino students in the community and is in violation of anti-discrimination laws.
The suit, filed by the Lawyers’ Committee, CRLA, attorneys from Ropes & Gray’s San Francisco office, and local lawyers Edie Sussman and David Grabill on behalf of the community group, alleges that a school board member had a personal interest in the closure of Doyle Park Elementary, rendering the vote invalid.  After receiving a question from the audience at the March 14 board meeting in which the vote was held, School Board Member Tad Wakefieldadmitted that he was interested in enrolling his children at a French-American charter school that would open in Doyle Park Elementary’s location.
“The closure of Doyle Park Elementary is marred by the school board’s failure to appropriately disclose and address this blatant conflict of interest by one of its members.  Ultimately, there is an outstanding question about whose interests were being served during this process.  The Latino students, who will be disproportionately impacted by this questionable vote, deserve transparency and the board must be held accountable,” stated Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Kimberly Thomas Rapp.
Wakefield, who originally opposed the closure of Doyle Park Elementary, reversed his position and cast the deciding vote to close the school, along with board members Haenel, Carle, and Jeye.  Board members Gonzalez and Kristof voted in opposition to the closing of Doyle Park, and have publicly voiced opposition to the decision.  “The circumstances of the vote show a failure by certain members of the school board to serve the needs of the community before their own,” said Sussman, one of the Santa Rosa-based attorneys who worked on the suit.  Partner
Thad Davis of Ropes & Gray, which is working on this case on a pro bono basis, stated, “Our firm is entirely committed to assisting in litigating these important issues on an expedited basis.”
In addition to the problematic circumstances surrounding the vote, the closure of Doyle Park Elementary disproportionately impacts Latino students in Santa Rosa.  The student body of Doyle Park Elementary is 75% Latino, with the vast majority of these students being displaced to other racially isolated schools outside of their neighborhoods.  “The Board’s action illegally promotes further disproportionate assignment of Latino children and white children to racially impacted schools outside of their neighborhoods,” said Jeff Hoffman, Directing Attorney of
CRLA’s Santa Rosa office.
“The district can find other locations to open the French American charter school that doesn’t hinge on uprooting the students who attend Doyle Park,” stated Michaele Morales, member of DPCEE and a community activist with P.O.D.E.R. (Padres Organizados por Derechos, Education y Respeto), a group of parents, teachers and community members working to address numerous education equity issues in the area.  “The lack of transparency and swiftness surrounding the
closure has mobilized the community to take legal action to protect our schools.”