Ochoa v. Anaheim City School District

Summary

This case involves the validity of petition filed by parents to convert a failing district school to a charter school using the Parent Empowerment Act.

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Summary

In January 2015, parents of Palm Lane Elementary School students petitioned the Anaheim City School District ("District") to transform the chronically failing school into an independent charter school. The parents' petition was authorized by the Parent Empowerment Act ("Act"), which allows parents to file and requires a school district to implement such a petition so long as certain requirements are met. The District denied the petition, claiming that because California did not make determinations of any school's Adequate Yearly Progress ("AYP") for the 2013-14 school year, the school was not a "failing school" subject to the Act, and that the petition did not meet the requirements established by the Act.

Under the Act, parents seeking to improve an underperforming school are allowed to obtain signatures from at least half of the parents or legal guardians of pupils attending the school and make a request to implement one of four intervention plans to the appropriate governing education body. The four intervention options include: a turnaround model, a restart model, school closure, or the transformation model.

On April 10, 2015, the District filed a complaint for declaratory relief in the Superior Court of California, seeking a determination as to whether Palm Lane was a subject school under the Act. On April 15, 2015, the group filed a cross-complaint against the District, seeking to compel the District to grant their petition to transform Palm Lane Elementary School into a charter school. After a six-day trial, the trial court found in favor of the parents and determined that the District's rejection of the petition was "procedurally unfair, unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious." Additionally, the court found that the district's method of verifying signatures was defective and resulted in the improper exclusion of valid signatures significant to reach and exceed the 50% threshold.

The District appealed the trial court decision, again challenging the technical compliance of the petition with the Act and also arguing that the parents failed to exhaust their administrative remedies prior to bringing a lawsuit because they did not resubmit the petition as allowed by the Act.

On April 28, 2017, the Court of Appeal for the 4th District filed its opinion, rejecting all of the district's argument. In short, the appellate court found:

  • Palm Lane Elementary was subject to the Parent Empowerment Act at the time the petition was filed, despite the State Superintendent's request for a federal waiver from AYP requirements;
  • The petition adequately identified the lead petitions in compliance with the regulations; described the restart model in compliance with the regulations; and contained the requisite number of parents signatures;
  • The relationship with Ed Reform Now did not require its name to appear on the front page of the parent trigger petition per the regulations;
  • The parents were not required to exhaust administrative remedies and resubmit the petition.

CCSA filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the parent group due to the potential of the case to undermine the strength of the Parent Empowerment Act as a viable option for parents to transform failing schools on behalf of their children. Moreover, the Anaheim City School District's egregious actions in denying parental access to a higher performing school option warranted a strong response from the charter school community.

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