Yesterday (July 16, 2015), after a seven day trial, Superior Court Judge Andrew P. Banks issued his decision awarding the parents and children who wished to convert their failing public school Palm Lane Elementary into a public charter school under the Parent Empowerment Act (also known as the Parent Trigger Law). To read the Court’s ruling go to: CJC5thflr@occourts org_20150716_144242
In brief, the Judge found that the parents had complied with and substantially complied with all of the requirements of the law and that the Anaheim City School District and its Board of Trustees had neither complied with the letter nor the spirit of the law. Judge Banks ordered that the Board reverse its February 19, 2015 finding that the parents had not gathered enough signatures (he ruled they had) and their erroneous finding that Palm Lane Elementary was not a “subject school” that was eligible to be converted to a public charter school.
What does this mean? First assuming the School District does not appeal (or that the Appeals Court rebuffs any such appeal), in the fall of 2016 Palm Lane Elementary will re-open under Charter School management rather than under the failed management of the Anaheim City School District, its Board of Trustees and their union partners. I should note at this juncture that Palm Lane Elementary has been on a “failing school” list for over ten years. If the District had not denied the parents’ petitions on February 19th, Palm Lane would have opened as a public charter school this fall. But due to the District’s delays, including filing a lawsuit against the lead parents, the children of Palm Lane Elementary must live with another year of poor performance and mismanagement. A year of their education they can never get back.
Space here does not allow me to go into details about the manner in which the District handled this affair (which is likely not over yet) but it is telling that Judge Banks stated in his ruling: “I find the rejection [of the petitions] to be procedurally unfair, unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.” By rejection he was referring to the District’s February 19th decision. By this finding and statement the Judge was not just finding that the District was wrong but that their actions were anything but the “cooperative working with the parents” the Judge ruled the law required. In the Judge’s words: “Clearly, the Respondents [the District] did not meet their obligations of good faith cooperation with respect to this issue and as mandated by the Act. [the Parent Trigger Law].” [additions mine].
As one example the Judge noted that Dr. Linda Wagner, Anaheim City School District’s Superintendent, did not know even on the day she testified in Court who the lead Petitioners were (i.e. the Lead Parents who submitted the Petitions to convert Palm Lane to a public charter school). He also noted that the author of the Parent Trigger Law, former State Senator Gloria Romero, issued a letter to the District offering to assist the District in coordinating with the lead Parents who Sen. Romero was working with, and the District never responded to that letter. Since Dr. Wagner authorized the District’s attorney to file a lawsuit against those very parents (who they specifically named in the lawsuit) a couple of months prior to the trial, in my opinion either she was willfully ignorant or incredibly disingenuous.
It is said that elections have consequences. Maybe this trial court ruling will have election consequences to the Board of Trustees of the Anaheim City School District.
Kudos to the legal team of Kirkland & Ellis who represented the parents and Gloria Romero’s organization in the lawsuits, to the California Policy Center, Inc., Arturo Garcia, the lead parents and their supporters and a lot of others I do not have space here to list who also supported the parents. Mega Kudos to Senator Gloria Romero for her unwavering support of the parents both in being the Parent Trigger Law author but even after leaving the legislature, helping the very people she wrote the law for!
Note: I call the charter school a “public charter school” because a charter school is still a public school, just one that is not dominated by public employee unions.
About the Author: Craig Alexander is the principal of the Law Offices of Craig P. Alexander and has practiced law for over twenty five years. He represents clients in litigation and non-litigation matters regarding construction defects, insurance coverage, personal injury, property damages, business litigation and general civil litigation matters and professional liability cases. Craig is a graduate of Santa Clara University’s School of Law and he was admitted to the California State Bar in December of 1987. This article originally appeared in OC Political, and is republished here with permission.