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By Miriam Raftery

Photo:  Diego Valley Charter School students protesting to save their school at November 2015 GUHSD board meeting

July 8, 2017 (San Diego’s East County) – Several recent court rulings impact the future of many charter schools in California, including several in East County.

Last October, a California appellate court ruled that charter schools can’t expand within their home county by opening campuses outside their own authorizing district.  That ruling affected a suit filed back in 2015 by the Grossmont Union High School District seeking to shut down the Julian Charter School, Alpine Academy and Diego Valley Charter School, all operating within the GUHSD boundaries.

In April, Judge Donald Donnelly ordered all three of these schools to close down by June 30th.  But the state Board of Education granted a waiver to allow them to stay upon until June of 2018 and comply with the law.  

A last-ditch effort to save the schools came from four students who filed a request to modify Donnelly’s decision, arguing that revoking the charters for the schools would deny their education.  But on June 27, Donnelly denied the students’ request.

That decision stemmed from a case against the Julian Union Elementary School District, which has operated charters in both the San Diego Unified and Grossmont Union High School districts. 

Charters can generate profits for small, financially struggling school districts such as Julian Union and Mountain Empire. The latter became embroiled in scandal after former Superintendant Steve Van Zandt pled guilty to a felony conflict of interest for starting up charters supervised by Mountain Empire in other school districts, while pocketing money paid to a consulting firm owned by Van Zandt and his wife.

A key argument against charters opening outside their home districts is that they take public average daily attendance money and divert those funds away from public schools.  Some have faced accountability issues, as in La Mesa, where the La Mesa Spring Valley School District recently denied a charter request for College Preparatory Middle School. That school attained strong test schools, but was found to be non-transparent and non-responsive to concerns raised by school board members.

But students of some charters have been vocal in support of their schools.  Diego Valley Charter, for example, helped students who had to work to support their families, including many immigrants and refugees, as well as new mothers and students who were too old to attend public school obtain high school diplomas.  They argued that the district’s efforts to shut down their school was all about money, not putting students’ needs firsts.