Updated at 11:50 a.m. Nov. 20, 2015
Jaqueline Ramirez, 16, balanced her fidgety 19-month-old daughter Aolanis on her hip while addressing the Grossmont high school district board Thursday night.As a pregnant freshman two years ago at Granite Hills High School, she said, she encountered ostracism. She said she was shunted around until a cousin suggested enrolling at Diego Valley Charter School in El Cajon.
Ramirez said a Granite Hills counselor warned against Diego Valley, but the teen, reading from prepared remarks, hailed it as “one of a kind. … I do not think you are right to shut down Diego Valley or similar schools.”
Ramirez was among 200 students, staff and parents of strip-mall-style charter schools in El Cajon and Alpine urging a halt to Grossmont efforts to shut their schools.
The Grossmont Union High School District filed suit Oct. 6 in San Diego Superior Court to close what it considers rogue charter schools violating state law by operating outside the school district where they were authorized.The East County district says the Julian Union School District granted charter status to high schools operated by Lancaster-based Diego Plus Education Corp., also known as Diego Valley Public Charter.
“Why does Grossmont want to stop programs that are working for so many? The answer is simple: money,” charter-school supporters said in a statement.
“Grossmont thinks by spending money on lawyers now, it will get students back and more money from the state in the end. The district is choosing money over education.”
Grossmont officials deny the suit was launched for financial gain, saying in a statement Thursday that Julian “is the only one who has a financial incentive to authorize a charter to operate outside its boundaries and serve only residents of other districts.”
- Read: Media statement by Grossmont Union High School District
- Related: Grossmont’s Legal Fight Over Alpine HS May Top $2.3 Million
Trustee Priscilla Schreiber said after the meeting that she hadn’t known the suit had been filed until she saw the turnout. (She was part of a 5-0 vote Sept. 10 to authorize legal action, according to the district.)
“I support whatever education is best for families and students,” she said when asked if Grossmont made the right decision to sue. “My concern is: Are [the charter schools] operating illegally?”
Schreiber said the charters, which are public schools, are legal here if they operate as resource centers. “This is all new to me,” she said.Several of nearly a dozen speakers said more than 1,000 students were at risk of losing their small schools if Grossmont prevailed.
But board President Rob Shield, who limited public comment on the charter issue to 20 minutes, seemed to offer an olive branch.
“I cannot make any promises,” Shield told the packed board chambers in El Cajon — with dozens overflowing into an adjacent hallway. “You have been heard. I have certain questions to ask the [district] superintendent at the appropriate time.”
Craig Beswick, Diego Valley Charter principal, told the board his school took students who had been bullied or couldn’t fit into the traditional high school campus. Many had already quit school.
“We turn dropouts into high school graduates,” Beswick said, claiming 86 percent of his students leave with a diploma and 34 percent eventually return to Grossmont district schools.
Wearing yellow shirts with the slogan #DefendSchoolChoice, backers rallied outside before the board meeting in support of the charters, which say they offer customized programs not available in traditional high schools.Grossmont itself has two charter high schools — Helix in La Mesa and Steele Canyon in Rancho San Diego. Both are traditional campuses chartered by Grossmont.
The Julian-chartered schools say they operate as resource centers and aren’t violating the state’s Charter Schools Act over geographical restrictions as the lawsuit alleges.
The suit says Diego Valley Public Charter operates six sites in San Diego County — none in the Julian district itself.
“It is illegal, unauthorized and interferes with the rights and responsibilities of the local school district to its residents to be accountable for public schools in its boundaries, and prevents the oversight and accountability that are lynchpins of the” Charter Schools Act, the suit says.
Roxana Janka, a spokeswoman for the charters, listed four local charter high schools that face closure under the suit — Diego Valley (600 students) in El Cajon, Julian Charter (300 students) in Alpine, Greater San Diego Academy Charter Homeschool (200) in La Mesa and Mosaica Online Academy (30) based in El Cajon.
The charter group also shared documents and emails obtained under a California Public Records Act request — showing how Grossmont sought to deal with the charter schools. See these Dropbox folders for the documents.The 23-page suit, signed by Sarah Sutherland with fellow attorney Dannis Kelley, says Grossmont tried to to “avoid the need for this litigation by seeking to work directly” with the parties involved.
“However, JUSD, DVPC and JCS brushed aside the District’s attempts for resolution on multiple occasions and continue to willfully ignore and
violate the law despite the District’s notices and requests to remedy the situation,” says the suit, which also asks for at least $25,000 in damages.
A hearing in the case is set for 8:30 a.m. June 10, 2016, before Judge Joan M. Lewis in downtown San Diego Superior Court.
On Friday, the superintendent of the Julian Union School District said via email that his district “is proud of our charter schools and the success they have in educating students.”
Brian Duffy, the superintendent, added:
“The district and all the charter school’s resource centers have always operated within the law and have been in operation successfully for several years. The Julian Charter School Alpine Academy has operated for eight years and Diego Valley Charter School El Cajon resource center has operated for five years. We look forward to resolving this issue so students can continue their education.”
In other business at the East County Regional Education Center, the board voted 3-2 to spend an additional $550,000 on legal efforts to defend Grossmont against the Alpine Union School District and a separate group pushing for an Alpine high school.
That amount would bring the district’s legal spending on the issue to more than $2 million.
Board members Shield, Jim Kelly and Gary Woods voted for the extra spending; members Schreiber and Jim Stieringer voted against.
Stieringer called the added expense “a lot of money” and said “the lawsuit is crying for a settlement.”
Shield cut off Schreiber from making a comment about the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee after she exhausted her 2-minute speaking limit — a board policy she opposes.
But after the meeting, she told Times of San Diego: “If bond dollars can legally go to paying the legal fees, where is the oversight on adding up the dollars? We have no oversight on our bond program.”
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