SACRAMENTO — Charter school resource centers may begin shuttering this week following a court ruling limiting where they can operate, but many will remain open for at least another year after receiving waivers from the state Board of Education.

The ban, which centers on charter school satellite campuses located outside the district where the school is chartered but within the county, follows an appellate court ruling that found they were operating illegally, a decision the California Supreme Court refused to review.

Emily Bertelli, communications manager for California Charter School Association
Emily Bertelli, communications manager for California Charter School Association

While many schools received the limited waivers "in order to minimize the disruption to pupils and education programs," according to the state education board, other centers likely will shut. At least one operator, however, has been granted county-wide charter status.

Close to 40,000 students attend the "non-classroom" centers outside of districts where the school is chartered. The centers have limited opening hours but act as a base for students learning from home, a place where they can pick up learning packages, receiving some onsite teaching and instructions.

The ruling affects 229 centers across the state and 2,000 employees, according to the California Charter School Association (CCSA).

The CCSA says charter schools have some options. They can apply to the school district for charter status, or, if turned down, appeal to the county and then the state. 

Anderson Unified High School District versus Shasta Secondary Home School was decided by the California Third District Court of Appeal, which based its ruling on a provision of the state education code that “a petition for the establishment of a charter school shall identify a single charter school that will operate within the geographic boundaries of that school district.”

While charter schools will not be able to operate a resource center elsewhere in the county where they are located, they can open one in adjacent counties. This was described as "absurd" by a lower court judge who sided with the charter school. That decision was overturned by the appellate court.

Emily Bertelli, communications manager for the CCSA, told the Northern California Record that 24 waivers were heard and approved by the state education board in May. The general waiver policy was adopted as the board expected multiple requests.

"We expect to see more in the future," Bertelli said. The waivers allow the schools to operate the centers until June 30, 2018.

"Charter schools can also submit new charter petitions to operate their existing resource centers," Bertelli said.

However, reports from various parts of the state reveal that school districts are turning down petitions, and the CCSA knows of only one case in which a school has received a county-wide charter to operate the resource centers.

One charter, Grossmount in San Diego, has launched an appeal against the decision by the district and the county to deny its petition for charter status for one of its resource centers.

Bertelli said the school operator that received a county-wide charter was Excelsior Charter Schools in San Bernardino. It operates six locations. The San Bernardino County Education Board conditionally approved the charter earlier this month, though there was opposition from two school districts.

According to a report on the board meeting in the Victor Valley Daily Press, a board member said the decision "may not be so good for public school districts,” who “lose their kids to charters. "

Some in the audience responded with shouts that included, "Because they don’t want to be there,” and, “That’s their choice.”

Another charter school operator, Options for Youth, which has sites in various parts of the state, including San Bernardino County, told the newspaper that numerous school districts have turned down petitions to charter its resource centers.

Kimberly Brown, a spokeswoman for Options for Youth, told the Northern California Record, that her organization would not make any detailed comment until Friday, but confirmed June 30 is the day they understand the ban is due to come into effect. Brown said management still has some decisions to make ahead of Friday, but would not elaborate further.

Bertelli, of the CCSA, said that while the Shasta case is over, the California Court of Appeal "may consider a similar case in the Bay Area, Los Angeles or San Diego and decide differently."

"In such a case, it might encourage the California Supreme Court to accept a petition for review in a new case," she said.

No bills to change the law to ease the restrictions on the resource centers are before the state legislature. Indeed, one bill filed earlier this year would have barred charters from appealing district decisions to the county or state except in exceptional circumstances. It was withdrawn.

Bertelli said she is not aware of any centers closing this week, adding that the education board likely will provide waivers to every charter school that has requested more time to implement transition plans.

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