Inside the Law

Inside the Law

L.A. Unified and Charter Schools Butt Heads

A charter school coalition consisting of Green Dot Public Schools, Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC) Schools, and the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) recently filed two lawsuits in the Los Angeles Superior Court against the Los Angeles Unified School District, alleging that the district has failed to make adequate space available for their charter students.

At issue in the cases is equal access to facilities for all public school students granted by Proposition 39, a state ballot measure passed by voters in 2000. The law requires that school districts share public school facilities fairly among all public school students, including those that attend charter schools. Many charter proposals do not come with readymade campuses.

More than 103 charter schools operate in L.A. Unified-more than in any other district in the state. L.A. Unified has provided furniture, fixtures and temporary classrooms to more than 11,000 charter students, and an additional 2,300 are in new district buildings. But thousands more of the 42,000 charter students are in need of a place to learn.

"Charter school students are public school students. [L.A. Unified] must stop treating them as second-class citizens when it comes to providing classrooms," says Myrna Castrejon, senior vice president for CCSA.

The district claims that it has neither the resources nor the space for all the charter students. L.A. voters have, however, approved more than $11 billion since 2002 to help the district meet its legal obligation to provide facilities, with $120 million specifically earmarked for charter facilities.

"There is no unanimity of opinion when it comes to 'fair' charter school treatment," says L.A. Unified general counsel Kevin Reed.

According to Caprice Young, CCSA president, the plaintiff s believe that the new Los Angeles school board members, who assume their duties on July 1, will have more of an inclination to follow the state law and to reach a settlement with the plaintiffs.

PUC opened the first of its seven schools in 1999, and not one has ever had a district home, says co-founder Jacqueline Elliot. One location is a rented former private school where students cross a busy boulevard between classes. Another is a dirt lot with portable buildings.

The plaintiff s assert that L.A. Unified has continued to violate state law. Public record requests from 2005-2007 say that the district denied or made unreasonable offers to 57 of the 59 requests for facilities made by charter schools, which include Green Dot and PUC schools. The district denied Green Dot's request to house five charters next year; all five of those schools are subjects of the lawsuit. Three of the seven PUC schools are subjects of the other lawsuit.

Young says that legal action has made a difference elsewhere, including San Diego Unified, which now collaborates more closely with charter schools.

"Districts and charter schools need to share the pain," she says.

Some Highly Qualified Teachers May Not Be So Qualified

According to a recent federally sponsored study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development ( www.nichd.nih.gov), the quality of instruction in elementary classrooms has little to do with whether teachers have the credentials to meet the definition of "highly qualified" under the No Child Left Behind law.

STAT BLASTThe number of charter schools nationwide grew by 11% in 2006.  Charter schools now serve a student body that is on average 53%  minority and 54% low-income.

Through detailed observations of students in 20 states, the study showed that teachers labeled as highly qualified focused their lessons on basic skills rather than problem-solving, and their students may or may not have received emotional and instructional support in class.

Parents of Disabled Children Do Not Need Lawyer to Sue

In May the Supreme Court ruled that parents of disabled children no longer need to hire lawyers to sue school districts when attempting to ensure that their children's special needs are adequately met.

The court found that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees a "free appropriate public education" to children, also grants rights to the parents. They may now represent themselves in federal court when disputes arise between them and the school over what is best for the child. Federal courts generally allow individuals to represent themselves-but not others-without the aid of a lawyer.

Parents of disabled children have contended in the past that it is expensive and often difficult to find lawyers who will take such cases. That was the experience that prompted Jeff and Sandee Winkelman to sue the Parma City (Ohio) School District on behalf of their autistic son. They said they could not afford an attorney to continue their dispute with the school board over its contention that their son's needs were being met. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit dismissed the Winkelman's appeal unless they obtained counsel to represent their son. The Supreme Court's ruling reversed this decision.

"I believe there will be many more IDEA cases brought in federal court," said Kathy Mehfoud, a Richmond lawyer who represents about 80 school districts across Virginia.

Federal Officials Profit from Textbook Publishers, Report States

A congressional report in May from the office of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) disclosed a startling discovery in the extensive ties that exist between textbook publishers and federal officials who help implement the Reading First program.

The report found that the four current and former directors of three regional Reading First technical assistance centers have together pocketed nearly $3 million in recent years from the $1 billion-a-year initiative. The program has faced numerous allegations of conflict of interest and cronyism over recent months.

"The report is inaccurate, unfair and has no basis in fact," says Lizette D. Benedi, an attorney who works for the U.S. Department of Education as commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research.

AASA Releases NCLB Vision

As Congress prepares to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law, AASA has released its 2007 Legislative Agenda, which outlines recommendations for a change in the federal role in K12 education.

AASA believes "education is to help provide equal opportunity for each child" and to support, not dictate, state and local education, said Bruce Hunter, public policy associate executive director.


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