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LAUSD banned charter schools from many of its campuses. Now charters will fight it in court

Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — A battle over the rights of charters to use Los Angeles Unified school campuses has moved to the courts with the filing of a lawsuit Tuesday targeting a recently approved district policy.

The California Charter Schools Assn. alleges that L.A. Unified acted illegally when the Board of Education recently voted to restrict where charters could locate as well as the classrooms they could use.

"Despite offering to work collaboratively with the board on a new policy that would improve the process of sharing campuses, LAUSD disregarded the voices and needs of charter school families and adopted a new policy to harm their schools," said Myrna Castrejón, president and chief executive of the charter association. "The lawsuit comprehensively explains to the court how the policy is in direct violation of state law and should be invalidated."

L.A. Unified School District officials had no immediate comment on the lawsuit, but have maintained that their revised charter school policy is legal. Board of Education members have said that, all along, they asked senior administrators to craft a policy that would comply with laws governing charter schools. Policy supporters also said that charters would continue to receive reasonable offers of campus space.

The policy, passed by a 4-3 vote, prohibits the new location of charters at campuses with special space needs or programs. One early staff estimate put the number of affected campuses close to 350, but there's uncertainty over how the policy will be interpreted. The school system has about 850 campuses.

Charter advocates are concerned that charters could be pushed out of areas where they currently operate, making it difficult for them to remain viable. Another fear is that more charter schools will split up between campuses, making them harder and more expensive to operate — and less convenient for parents.

 

Under the policy, district-operated campuses are exempt from new space-sharing arrangements when a school has a designated program to help Black students or when a school is among the most "fragile" because of low student achievement. Also exempt would be community schools, which incorporate services for health, counseling and other needs of students and their families. The state also has designated some local charters as community schools, which the district policy does not account for.

Members of the school board majority said the new rules would protect needed space beyond the normal allotments for classrooms, counselors, health staff and administrators — for example, rooms for tutoring, enrichment or parent centers. Such spaces had frequently been tabulated as unused or underutilized — and then made available to charters.

Board President Jackie Goldberg has repeatedly minimized the impact the new policy will have on charter schools that already have sharing arrangements.

The new rules also discourage placing charters where they could disrupt traditional feeder-school patterns. Goldberg cited the example of a charter middle school on a district-run elementary campus. The charter school, she suggested, would have an unfair advantage in recruiting those elementary students, undermining the local, district-run middle school.

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