Pleased to see the press picking up our story. Wish TVUSD would start telling the truth....
Charter School Files Lawsuit against Temecula Valley Unified School District
On September 8, 2015, suit was filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Riverside against Temecula Valley Unified School District (“TVUSD”) as a result of the forced closure of a charter school operated by Plaintiff Keegan Academy (“Keegan”). The complaint alleges breach of contract, conspiracy, negligence, and violations of California’s Education Code among its causes of action. Named individually are TVUSD Superintendent Timothy Ritter, TVUSD Charter School Liaison Scott Schaufele, and attorney Sarah Sutherland of the firm Dannis, Woliver, and Kelley.
According to Sonja Clause, Keegan’s executive director, TVUSD administrative staff unilaterally determined that material revisions to Keegan’s charter contract were required for its continued operation during the 2012-2013 school year and threatened immediate closure of the school if Keegan did not agree to TVUSD’s new terms. Additionally, TVUSD painted an inaccurate portrait of the charter school’s financial health which was then utilized to justify TVUSD’s decision to force the school’s closure. These actions were taken by TVUSD administrative staff, states Ms. Clause, without prior approval or authority by the TVUSD Governing Board and in violation of California law. “Their priority was to protect their geographic monopoly rather than to act in the best interest of all students. The data shows that Keegan was an educationally sound and financially responsible school. As a result of the unilateral actions undertaken by top TVUSD administrators, dozens of students were displaced and employees lost their jobs. There needs to be accountability.”
California’s Education Code has a very specific process for forcing the closure of a charter school, which includes an analysis primarily based on student performance. This process includes a notice of violation, an opportunity to correct the violation, a public hearing, and a vote by the school district’s board based on “substantial evidence.” According to Ms. Clause, none of these legally-required steps occurred prior to the charter’s closure. “I thought that school district employees, including administrators, were expected to follow the law and act with high ethical standards. I also thought that a school board was supposed to hold their employees accountable when that does not happen. The TVUSD Board has either been grievously misled by district administrative staff or actively participated in this scheme. Both scenarios are extremely troubling.”
On February 3, 2015, Ms. Clause submitted a new charter petition to TVUSD for consideration.
The petition was met with resistance by the TVUSD Governing Board and district staff from the start, states Ms. Clause. During the eleven week petition consideration process, the Board violated the Brown Act, violated Ed Code, and violated their Code of Ethics. Leadership from all major departments within TVUSD prepared a Staff Report regarding the new charter petition that was presented to the Board at their April 21, 2015 meeting. The Staff Report, presented by the District’s Charter School Liaison, contained numerous substantive errors and allegations which Ms. Clause was not allowed to address during the meeting or otherwise. The Board proceeded to adopt the Staff Report as written factual findings and utilized those findings as the basis for their denial of the new charter petition. Ms. Clause was never afforded the opportunity to formally present the petition or any other information to the Board nor was she was ever provided an opportunity to take questions from the Board. According to Ms. Clause, “It is a pretty fundamental American practice that opposing sides are afforded the opportunity to present their case before a governmental body, but I was not.”
Following the denial of the new charter petition, Ms. Clause submitted a district complaint form and also wrote to the five Governing Board members, informing them of the improprieties in their recent charter consideration process and requesting a new, lawful vote after being given an equal opportunity to be heard. The Board did not respond. “For the elected Board to go along with this unlawful process, effectively condoning it, is extremely disappointing and should be a cause of concern for our community. It will be interesting to see if the Board now decides to examine facts and follow the law, or if they will continue to use their power and the public’s money to cover for the misdeeds of some of their top administrators.”
With no apparent oversight of this situation at the Board level, the only recourse for Keegan is through the courts. “I am disheartened that it has come to this but do look forward to our day in court so that Keegan can finally present its case in a fair and open forum.”