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Doyle Park school closure on hold but French plans proceed

Diana Zappa, 10, right, and fellow Doyle Park Elementary fifth-grader Ashley Wilson, 10, left, cheer as they hear one Santa Rosa School Board member say he didn't want to close the school at the board meeting Wednesday night. (CRISTA JEREMIASON/The Press Democrat)


Santa Rosa school officials agreed Friday they will not formally close Doyle Park Elementary School to make way for a French charter school until a Superior Court judge rules on a civil lawsuit challenging the closure.

The district’s newly formed French American Charter School may continue to enroll children and hire staff, but it cannot, for the time being, guarantee parents and prospective employees that the Doyle Park campus is theirs.

These were key legal stipulations hammered out in court Friday between the school district and a group of Doyle Park teachers, parents and community members.

Bob Henry, legal counsel for Santa Rosa school board and district, said, “colloquially speaking, we’re entitled to lead the horse across the pasture and right up to the trough, but we’re not going to let the horse drink.”

The group challenging the controversial school closure had sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the district from taking any steps that would make it impossible for a judge to reverse the decision to close the school.

The group, the Doyle Park Committee for Educational Equity, is represented by two local public interest attorneys and lawyers for a San Francisco-based civil rights group.

In its lawsuit, the group claims the school board’s vote to close Doyle Park was “tainted” by a trustee’s conflict of interest, violated the state education code covering conversion of public schools into charter schools and was harmful to its Latino students.

The district has rejected the claims and insists the school board took appropriate steps to close Doyle Park because of declining enrollment and a resulting financial shortfall. School officials say Doyle Park’s students would be better served at neighboring elementary schools, or at the French charter school itself.

On Friday morning, after Judge Mark Tansil met with attorneys on both sides for about an hour, he asked them to come to some “understanding.” The attorneys negotiated in private for about an hour and a half.

In the resulting stipulations, both sides agreed the court would ultimately decide whether or not Doyle Park should be closed.

In addition, enrollment applications for the French charter school must delete all mention of Doyle Park and its address and families must be notified if and when Doyle Park is permanently closed.

Supporters of the French charter school said the lawsuit is not only an effort to save Doyle Park but an attempt to undermine their charter as well.

Roy Miller, a local criminal defense attorney who is volunteering his legal advice to founders of the French charter school, told Tansil that the suit “could go a long way toward killing this charter.”

After the hearing, Doyle supporters said they were not out to hurt the new charter school.

“Our agreement is not at all intended to destroy the French American Charter School,” said Cecilia Chen, an attorney with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is assisting Doyle Park supporters.

“Everyone is in agreement that the French American Charter School is a positive thing for the school district,” she said.

The agreements reached Friday simply state that until the judge renders a decision on the legal challenge, current “hiring and enrollment cannot be tied directly to Doyle Park,” she said.

Tansil said he wanted to expedite discovery and depositions through May. The next court hearing is scheduled for June 7 when Tansil will hear testimony on the legal merits of the lawsuit.

18 Responses to “Doyle Park school closure on hold but French plans proceed”

  1. GAJ says:

    Ricardo, in other countries children that can’t speak the native language are put into language immersion schools to learn the language before they are mainstreamed.

    Unfortunately that is not a PC thing to do here in the US or California.

    The way we do it now means it doesn’t work well for native speakers and for non native speakers alike.

    And we’re talking apples and oranges…you’re saying there are plenty of ESL schools (English as a second language) and I’m saying there’s not even one SSL school (Spanish as a second language) and instead we’re going to have a FSL school (French as a second language).

    In my eyes an SSL school would serve the overall community far better than an FSL school.

    We’ll agree to disagree.

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  2. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: GAJ- While I agree with you on “Having your kid fluent in Spanish will give them a big step up in terms of future employment opportunities…especially in this area”, the fact is, there are students here in Sonoma County that want and deserve, something other than being forgotten in an ESL school, surrounded by staff and an agenda that primarily devotes it’s time and resources to ESL students.

    We have plenty of ESL and Title 1 schools here in Sonoma County, and ESL parents and ESL students can have their pick of any. It’s about time that we have a school that caters to students OTHER than ESL, including students that want to learn English to French or French to English, in a higher-learning atmosphere.

    Bottom line, while I agree there is a place and need for ESL schools, I also feel that there is a need and place for schools other than catering to ESL students.

    It’s a shame that anyone that likes the concept or promotes a non-ESL school is accused of racism (that’s not directed to your post) but then that seems to be what the fabric of our society has turned into; if you don’t get what you want, then you smear, taint and accuse the opposition. (Gee, that sounds like Lisa and SEIU, but that’s another thread.)

    What a sorry state we’ve become.

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  3. GAJ says:

    @Ricardo; a French immersion school no more teaches French speakers English than a Spanish school would.

    Quite the opposite.

    Having your kid fluent in Spanish will give them a big step up in terms of future employment opportunities…especially in this area.


    Not so much.

    Sounds like the French angle is more of an affectation for the parents rather than a practical advantage for the children.

    I’ve lived in both French speaking and Spanish speaking countries and, in general, you will find more French speakers as a % can speak English as a second language than Spanish speakers.

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  4. Kim says:

    Ricardo Sorentino, Thank You for your elequent post ;-)

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  5. Reality Check says:

    Keep pouring more money down the drain for a school with a budget that can’t work simply because selfish people don’t want “their” school to close because it would be inconvenient for them. Pour even more money down that drain to defend the lawsuit that is being litigated by attornies from San Francisco who don’t have any idea of the issues. Then claim racism to scare the School Board into putting everything on hold once again because they’re scared to take a stand and make a decision. Twist the facts and continue to claim that Doyle Park was being closed to allow the French charter school to step in, a complete fabrication, as it was only good fortune that there was a school that could take over a property that ALREADY needed to be closed. Smoke, mirros, and wasted money for what gain? Absolutely none! Who loses? Everyone. Every other Santa Rosa City School will now have less money in their budgets because of the money being wasted here. Every student presently at Doyle Park that has a chance to attend another school that is operating within its budget, and meeting educational and testing standards. If those who fight the closure think they will “win” if the school stays open, they won’t, and they will only punish thousands of other students while demanding that it’s all about me! Me, me me! Not very musical, is it?

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  6. Accountable says:

    Next year Doyle Park will be in Year 4 of Program Improvement, which means that the School District is REQUIRED, by State Law, to implement at least one of the following alternative governance options:

    1)Close the school and reopen it as a charter school.

    2)Replace all or most of the school staff (which may include the principal) who are relevant to the failure to make AYP.

    3)Enter into a contract with an entity, such as a private management company with a demonstrated record of effectiveness, to operate the public school.

    4)Implement any other major restructuring of the school’s governance arrangement that makes fundamental reforms and leads to improved student achievement. One of the LEGAL options under number 4 is: “Dissolve the school and assign students to other schools in the district”.

    The School District has every legal right to dissolve Doyle Park, when it enters Year 4 of P.I., which it will. It may not be popular with teachers and some families, but it is not illegal. Doyle Park teachers and parents heard the warning call for years. And for those individuals who sit on the sidelines, criticizing this closure, you could have volunteered your time to help in the classroom, after school, or tutor on the weekends.

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  7. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: GAJ – “Never mind that California’s only international border is with Mexico and its 133 million Spanish speaking citizens or that 35% of the population of California speaks Spanish!”

    Spend a little time in almost any Sonoma County elementary or middle school, and you’ll quickly see that far more than 35% of the schools’ financial resources and budget are spent on ESL students. Might seem fair to all the ESL students and parents, but how about the rest of the student and parent demographics? The school districts are so concerned about catering to the ESL’s that any of the of higher-performing students are left hanging in the breeze, fending for themselves.

    If you don’t think it’s true, go spend some time in a school and see just which students the staff devotes the majority of their time to. Not every school, directly or indirectly, needs to be a Title 1 school and clearly there are people here that think that if it’s not about ESL, then their ‘anti’ that school or program. Too bad, since this demographic doesn’t pick up the bulk of their own educational expenses, including the free breakfasts and lunches that they are ‘entitled’ to. The only diversity this group wants to promote is their own.

    I hope Sonoma County will in fact have a French American Charter School at Doyle Park.

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  8. The Oracle says:

    I, too, wish they would keep the public school open, and they could increase its enrollment. But how? File this one under “Wishful Thinking is too costly.”

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  9. Commonsense says:

    There is a Spanish Immersion school in Sonoma County, I have numerous friends who’ve enrolled their children in it. And, Spanish (like many languages) has many dialects and well it’s a language spoken by many, why would that preclude anyone from learning other languages, like French, German or Italian??? Really??? Little closed minded IMHO.
    And, If one moves to another country to live and work, then one should show that country the respect of learning it’s language (NTM, that it will make earning a living there all the easier). Being bilingual is great, and I’ve learned a little of two different languages in my life, but that doesn’t excuse someone from learning the native language of the country they reside in, when it’s not their native one.
    This has nothing to do with 1% of the population because IMHO more than half of the population of parents in this County (and country) will do anything and everything within their power to provide their children with the best possible education, whether that means transporting them across city/county lines or private schools. If Doyle Park is and has been failing for years, then all the parents up in arms should have been doing more sooner, instead of waiting until the 9th inning to try and hit one out of the park. Even if the Court intervenes and prevents the Board from closing the school this year, it can’t prevent the lack of funding and success that will follow if nothing changes (drastically).

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  10. LM says:

    I wonder how many people actually bothered to read the French American charter school program before starting to blast it as elitist;
    Yes it will be a French immersion school,but more importantly it will be a school with a very strong science and art program,a school with parents from very different ethnic,cultural and language background; it will benefit the county and school district as whole while,and use a school whose attendance and scores have been declining over the last few years;
    Where were all these civil lawyers and concerned commentators over the last few years? Did they just start to get concerned about the poor,uneducated when these changes made the news?

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  11. shirley durban says:

    We hope that part of the final agreement is that ‘trustee’, Mr. Wakefield, resign in shame, that Doyle Park is resurrected as a thriving community school inviting all children to learn through exceptional common social and academic experiences, and that Mr. Miller and the other 1% involved here, be required to do 30 hours of pro bono work per week for the underprivileged of Santa Rosa.

    Judge Tansil has a fine sense of smell and I trust will rule to only serve this tainted administrative plan aux flambee. And as for school boards members everywhere, please take heed of your constituents before listening to the crackpot administrators who don’t know a thing about classrooms (that’s why they left) and are going for protection and furtherance of their own golden handshake before they truly get found out.

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  12. Reality Check says:

    Ah yes, “Good for the parents.”

    If only the parents were willing to pay to keep a school with declining enrollment open. But of course they aren’t. They just demand others do.

    Whether a French charter school might offer a better education can’t be known for sure. But it’s not a long reach to think it’s possible.

    In any case, we elect school boards to settle such matters, not the courts.

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  13. Joseph Donegan says:

    Santa Rosa schools have a long tradition of farmers children going to school with farm workers children. Sad to think out of town imports are changing this long tradition.

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  14. Bob Sacmanno says:

    If Doyle Park stays open, who’s going to pick up the 180K that they lose every year?

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  15. Missy says:

    So on this page today, the PD is only allowing the DPS people to comment? Time to get a message to Halifax LLC. I commented hours ago, and it’s not showing, I am for the French school.

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  16. gigi says:

    Good for these parents! I hope that for once Government gets their proverbial hands slapped for walking all over people’s rights and ignoring law. I can attest to issues in one particular County Dept. that I advocate for change. This Dept is open for business on Saturdays and claims to have a Spanish Speaking person onsite and someone to answer your questions when you call on the Spanish line. This particular Dept. has continously treated the Latino population as second class citizens. This Dept gives out limited information to the Latino’s. The translations were poor to the point that it has been insulting (it has improved recently). Today no exception, I just called the Spanish phone line for this particular County Dept. I did the “press this number and press this number” (in Spanish) to get my live Spanish speaking person. What did I get? ” This is so and so”. In plain old American English. We, Sonoma County Residents, call it Perception vs. Reality. The County of Sonoma call this something else: “Sweep it under the rug, because you citizens that complain are just a nuisance, except when it’s election time”.

    Doyle Park Civil Lawyers, please don’t let this School Board think they can walk all over the law. We have enough Government Entities in Sonoma County that think the law is not for them.

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  17. Steveguy says:

    ” GAJ — No kidden’, I parlay the Francay a bit and I see no use of a French School.

    Chinese or Spanish are the obvious languages if creating a language school. Is this just a few Francophiles runnning amok ?

    Are the people that thought up this lame-brain idea also going to run the school with $100 K plus salaries ? With generous benefits ? This scheme smells to me.

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  18. GAJ says:

    Only in Sonoma County would a French Charter school make “sense.”

    After Chinese, Spanish is the most widely spoken language on the planet with an estimated 332 million people speaking it in 1999.

    Compare that to English at 322 million and French at 80 million.


    Never mind that California’s only international border is with Mexico and its 133 million Spanish speaking citizens or that 35% of the population of California speaks Spanish!

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