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Santa Rosa school board sued over Doyle Park closure

By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A lawsuit filed Wednesday claims last month’s Santa Rosa school board decision to close Doyle Park Elementary School and replace it with a French-American charter school was illegal and discriminates against the school’s predominantly Latino students.

The suit, filed in Sonoma County Superior Court by attorneys representing the Doyle Park Committee for Education Equity, asks for a restraining order to halt closure efforts and seeks to overturn the board’s decision.

The group claims the board acted improperly because a school board member had a conflict of interest, the board’s March 15 vote violated the Brown Act and the move violates state law governing conversion of schools to charter schools.

“The closure of Doyle Park Elementary is marred by the school board’s failure to appropriately disclose and address this blatant conflict of interest by one of its members,” said attorney Kimberly Thomas Rapp in a statement.

Rapp is executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which promotes the civil rights of immigrant communities and is part of a group of attorneys representing Doyle Park supporters.

Doyle Park’s 240 students, 73 percent of whom are Latino, would be sent to three other elementary schools in the district. Critics accuse the board of discriminating against lower-income minority students in favor of a charter school likely to cater to higher-income white students.

District officials, however, said Doyle Park had declining enrollment and test scores and that creating a charter school would bring in needed students and revenue.

The suit was not a surprise but was disappointing, said Robert Henry, the school board’s attorney. He said the lawsuit raises no new issues or facts, and he is confident the school district will prevail. He will meet with the board today in closed session to discuss the suit.

The committee is made up of Doyle Park students, parents and teachers hoping to block the closure. Two current students, Karina Guadarrama and Kaylen Garcia, and their parents are named as plaintiffs in the suit.

Opponents of the board’s action have seized on school board trustee Tad Wakefield, saying he violated conflict of interest rules when he cast the key vote to close Doyle Park.

Just prior to voting, Wakefield publicly acknowledged that he had expressed interest in having his two young children attend the French charter school and said he had been advised by the board’s attorney that he had no conflict.

The suit claims Wakefield’s “private or personal interest in enrolling his children” at the French-American school “created an impermissible conflict of interest with his duty as a member of the Board.”

Wakefield has denied he had a conflict, and Henry and an outside law firm hired by the district both concluded there was no conflict.

But Wakefield had an obligation under common law not to put his person interests in conflict with his official duties, said Cecilia Chen, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee.

The lawsuit claims Wakefield’s vote “impermissibly tainted the proceedings, rendering them legally invalid.”

The group also claims the board violated the Brown Act, claiming that at least four members of the board improperly privately discussed the issue before the vote. It names Wakefield and board president Larry Haenel as having had such a discussion. Haenel has denied he ever spoke to more than two other members of the seven-member board.

The 20-pagelawsuit also argues that the board violated state law regarding how to convert a public school to a public charter school.

When the board “directly linked” the closure of Doyle Park with the designation of the site for the French-American school, it “changed from being a new charter school to a conversion of an existing public school to a charter school.”

That triggered a set of rules that were not followed, notably the requirement for a petition to be signed by at least 50 percent of Doyle Park’s teachers, the suit claims.

“I do think that is an argument that has merit and is strong,” Chen said.

Henry disagreed. In this case Doyle Park is being closed and the start-up French-American School will take over the vacant building, which Henry said “converts the site, not the school.”

“They simply missed the mark completely on what the charter school law is about,” Henry said.

Henry said he expected a hearing on the restraining order request as early as this week.

He didn’t know what the impact of such an order would be, but said the district is putting the “finishing touches” on plans to transfer teachers and students to other schools.

The suit claims the closure and transfer to other schools would cause students to “experience a significant disruption to their daily lives, and suffer emotional and mental distress.”

Chen said many of the students and have strong ties to their teachers and fellow students and “being uprooted during a pivotal time in their lives can be extremely traumatic,” she said.





10 Responses to “Santa Rosa school board sued over Doyle Park closure”

  1. Commonsense says:

    And, a lawsuit will make everything right again…despite the fact that DP was already going to be closed given their current status (as another poster put quite well) as being in year 4 of restructuring??? Guess what, not every adverse effect on a person or group is related to race, sometimes just the reality of a situation, financially and otherwise. And, why is it that no one asks the question regarding assimilation. If these parents want their children to assimilate then they should be interested in giving them a variety of educational opportunities in the best schools possible. Anyone who has read the State budget knows we spend the majority of our revenue on both education and human/health services. We don’t underspend, but we do spend poorly and IMHO a change to prop 13 would have no real impact, because the spending habits wouldn’t be altered just the numbers.

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  2. Kim says:

    When all else fails pull the race card, of course what do you expect with the number one organization of the Hispanic community is La Raza (The Race).

    What ever happened to the liberal mantra “diversity”? Once again, just like free speach, its only diviersity if the progressives say its diversity.

    If this fails what’s next? Oh, I know, French is too sexy of a language, it promotes wine drinking and smoking.

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  3. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Bear-don’t you know that prop 13 was a godsend? A godsend to big business but sold as help for homeowners. We the people got taken. Prior to Prop 13 businesses paid a little more of the state’s property taxes than homeowners. TODAY, homeowners pay 4 times what corporations pay of the state’s property taxes. It’s shifted from businesses to homeowners. That’s what it was designed to do. That’s why our schools are hurting. That’s why the state funds schools.

    Prop 13′s gives all kinds of loopholes to big businesses to get out of paying their property taxes.

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  4. srmom says:

    what i don’t understand is that the FAC has agreed to give doyle park students priority enrollment in the school. why would parents fight to keep a failing school open and turn down the opportunity to have their kids attend a charter with a set of highly envolved parents and a new set of teachers? if my child was at doyle, i’d be happy to have the failing teachers and administration out and have some new blood in.

    then again, these parents pretty much chose to have their kids attend doyle and not one of the many other much better schools in SR or the surrounding districts.

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  5. bear says:

    Financing of local schools should NEVER have gone to the state as a result of Prop. 13 in 1978!!!!

    You can’t have it both ways.

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  6. Accountable says:

    The reality is that next year Doyle Park will be in Year 4 of Program Improvement. For those who are not familiar with the State Mandates, here they are:

    Year 4 – Planning for Restructuring/Alternative Governance

    The following requirements and recommendations apply to:

    Schools newly entering School Restructuring (Year 4) based on Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results.

    LEA (School District), with input from the District and School Liaison Team, must develop a plan for restructuring/alternative governance that incorporates 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

    As many current D.P. parents have written, the inevitable will happen. The State Mandate allows SRCSD to radically change the school environment next year, including the replacement of teachers, regardless of whether FAC is involved. This lawsuit is a red herring that puts everyone, especially teachers and students, in a perpetual state of limbo.

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  7. Missy says:

    When Dems lose they throw in the RACE CARD and get unlimited PLAY out of it. Keep voting in Dems, this is what we expect out of them. UNLIMITED RACE CARD throws!

    Meanwhile, they will successfully SUE the district and make it even more broke, and more schools will have to close up.

    And our taxes will go up.

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  8. Californian says:

    Although this school closure is messy in the way it came about, I highly doubt racism has anything to do with it.

    DP school was kept open in recent years, even while it was losing money, student enrollment and test scores. So does that whole racism thing work in the reverse? You could say the district was being racist against students of various other races, because they accepted the loss of yearly funding at the primarily Latino DP for several years. Instead of closing DP and refocusing that funding towards schools with better scores and student enrollment earlier on, they chose to let the school bleed financially for a few years. Gee, it must be due to racism!

    The DP situation was handled in a less than stellar way, but I am tired of hearing a cry of racism from a certain ethnic group, everytime something doesn’t go their way. It makes your whole argument fall on deaf ears.

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  9. good one says:

    Oh for goodness sake. Will these lawsuits EVER end? Hey folks, THERE’S NO MONEY! DP school has like 90% of students receiving free lunches. You cannot tell me that those many families couldn’t feed their children lunch. that’s where a lot of money goes, to things not associated to learning. I agree that students that are hungry do not learn well, but I really don’t think these kids would go hungry. It’s just that the programs are there, so why not use them? Well, that kind of mentality has taken up sooooo much of our school budget that now there isn’t enough to go around.

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  10. Reality Check says:

    This will be interesting. Apparently, there are enough procedural rules to make a technical violation likely. Unless the school board carefully and correctly navigates a maze of rules, local control of the schools will be trumped.

    And of course never miss an opportunity to accuse of the board of racial discrimination. That’s always a winner

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