In a ground-breaking decision for school choice in California, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District today unanimously affirmed a decision rejecting the Anaheim City School District’s attempt to block a group of determined parents from converting their children’s failing school into a charter school.
The decision paves the way for Palm Lane Elementary School to be converted into a charter school, after years of protracted legal proceedings against a school district that was unwilling to comply with the parents’ lawful request for change. Today’s decision also reinvigorates the efforts of parents across the state to invoke California’s Parent Empowerment Act, a law that allow parents to transform their children’s failing schools into charter schools.
The case began after a group of Palm Lane parents grew concerned about their children’s education, in light of Palm Lane’s lengthy history as a chronically-failing school. The parents decided to take advantage of the California Parent Empowerment Act, which allows parents to transform their children’s underperforming school into a charter school after obtaining a sufficient number of signatures from other parents. The parents obtained the required number of signatures and presented their petition to the school district, which rejected it on numerous legally untenable grounds.
Litigation ensued and after a six-day trial, the Superior Court agreed with the parents, finding that the School District’s rejection of the parents’ petition was “procedurally unfair, unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious.” The Superior Court found that “no clearer repudiation of a school district’s performance could be imagined.” The Superior Court accordingly ordered the school district to implement the parents’ petition and convert Palm Lane into a charter school.
The school district appealed and today’s decision unanimously affirmed the Superior Court in all respects. In a 34-page published decision, the Court of Appeal ruled on various important legal issues of first impression — including the Act’s eligibility requirements and related legal issues — and found that the Superior Court had properly rejected the School District’s attempt to prevent change at Palm Lane.
The decision is the first published decision interpreting the California Parent Empowerment Act and its regulations, and will pave the way for parents across the state to utilize the Act to effect change at failing schools, as the California legislature intended.
Cecilia Ochoa, a Palm Lane parent and one of the lead petitioners behind the parents’ petition effort, said: “This has been a long battle to ensure that our children can have a chance for a good education. We are grateful that the Court of Appeal found that we fully complied with the law and that our children will finally have an opportunity to receive a quality education.”
Mark Holscher, pro bono attorney for Kirkland & Ellis LLP, said: “We are very pleased with how the appellate court ruled in favor of our clients—parents who never ceased fighting for a better school for their children. This ground-breaking ruling is important to parents across California who are trying to secure a higher-quality of education for their children.”
The case is Cecilia Ochoa et al. v. Anaheim City School District et al.
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