County School Board votes to deny Dozier-Libbey independent charters
By John Crowder
On Wednesday, May 21, the Contra Costa County Board of Education (Board) voted 3 to 1 to deny the petition submitted by the teachers of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) to convert the campus to a charter school and remove it from under the control of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD).
Board Trustee Cynthia Ruehlig cast the lone vote in favor of the petition. Trustees Richard Asadoorian, Daniel Gomes, and Pamela Mirabella voted in opposition to the charter proposal.
Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, County Office of Education staff (Staff) had submitted a recommendation to the Board that the petition be denied. In recommending for denial, they stated that, “the Petition presents an unsound educational program and petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the Petition. The Petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of all of the elements prescribed by law.”
Staff findings were refuted in a letter submitted to the Board by Paul Minney, an attorney representing the teachers, and by supporters of the move speaking at Wednesday’s meeting. With respect to Staff finding that the charter school would present an unsound education program, Minney’s letter pointed out that the Education Code specifically defined “an unsound educational program” as one that would present, “the likelihood of physical, educational, or psychological harm,” or “was not likely to be of educational benefit” to pupils, noting there was no evidence to support either contention.
Many of the public comments in support of the charter petition dealt with the concerns regarding their plan for assisting low-achieving, special education, and English learner students. Those opposed cited the problems identified by Staff in their report, and noted that many groups in the community, including elected officials, AUSD employees, advocacy groups and business representatives were opposed.
Following public comments on the matter, the Board questioned the teachers, staff, and AUSD representatives.
Ruehlig was the most outspoken in asking questions, beginning her examination by charging the teachers with explaining what they were offering that was not in place when they won a Distinguished School award in 2011. Dr. Cynthia Soraoka responded by detailing her desire to have her students participate in “virtual internships” with doctors from around the world. She described how her efforts to bring such plans to fruition had been stymied by AUSD over the last few years, specifically addressing a lack of technology. Ruehlig then asked how many of the teachers were committed to working at the school who had been involved with Dozier-Libbey when it won the Distinguished School award. Teachers responded that, with two exceptions, the staff would be the same.
Asadoorian asked about the use of the facility currently occupied by DLMHS. AUSD has taken the position that the charter school, if approved, would not be entitled to the use of the facility because of a lack of timeliness in requesting its use. This argument was countered by Minney, who said that, although he was confident that the teachers were legally entitled to the use of the facility, the teachers were willing to delay the conversion until the 2015-2016 school year in order to avoid a protracted legal fight.
Trustee Mirabella took issue with what she considered the lack of a comprehensive plan, as outlined in the petition, to operate the school as a charter.
In explaining their positions just prior to the vote, Mirabella and Ruehlig each weighed in on the proposal. Mirabella said she was voting against the petition, and supporting the findings of county Staff in their assessment that there were too many corrections needed. She went on to say that the intent of the law was to convert low-performing schools to charters, and that this petition had divided the community.
Ruehlig countered that the main question was whether or not we have the right to self-governance. She said her decision was based on the proposal presenting a sound educational program, and that it not only was sound, but was likely to succeed, and was best for the community.
With the rejection of their proposal by both the Antioch and Contra Costa School Boards, teachers must now decide if they will appeal the decision to the State Board of Education.