In Today’s Fresh Start, Inc. v. Los Angeles County Office of Education (July 12, 2011, B212966) __ Cal.App.4th __, 2011 WL 2685955, the Court of Appeal reversed a trial court decision requiring the Los Angeles County Board of Education to set aside its revocation of Today’s Fresh Start’s school charter. The Court’s decision was based on its determination that the charter revocation procedure set forth in the Education Code guarantees due process to the holder of a charter.
The Los Angeles County Board of Education initially approved a charter for Today’s Fresh Start in 2003. In 2007, after concerns were raised about the school’s compliance with the law in multiple areas, the Board notified Today’s Fresh Start that it would be initiating an investigation. The investigation was conducted by staff from the County Office of Education, including the County Superintendent of Schools. In July 2007, following the investigation, the County Office of Education issued a report and provided Today’s Fresh Start with a list of required corrective actions.
The Board held two meetings in October 2007 to review the results of the investigation and the charter’s responses to the corrective action plan. Upon the recommendation of the County Superintendent, the Board gave notice of its intent to revoke the charter and scheduled a public hearing for November 2007. No evidence was formally introduced during the public hearing. However, both Today’s Fresh Start and the County Office of Education were given ample opportunity to present and to respond to issues raised by the other party. Counsel for Today’s Fresh Start objected that the proceedings violated due process on the grounds that County staff, including the attorney for the County and the Superintendent, were acting not only as investigators but as advisors to the Board. Despite the objections, the Board voted to revoke the charter. Today’s Fresh Start appealed to the State Board of Education. However, because the State Board only reached a tie vote, the revocation was left in place.
Today’s Fresh Start also initiated action in state court to pursue their due process claims. The trial court ruled in favor of the charter school, finding that the revocation procedures set forth in the Education Code violated the charter’s right to due process. Specifically, the trial court found that the due process required formal introduction of evidence at the public hearing and that the hearing be conducted by an impartial finder of fact, such as an administrative law judge. The Board and the County Office of Education appealed.
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision, and held that the principles of due process were not violated in this case. The court noted that due process does not automatically require the formal presentation of evidence, so long as each party is apprised of all of the evidence presented against it. In this case, Today’s Fresh Start did not contend that the Board relied on evidence that was not previously disclosed.
The Court of Appeal also concluded that there was no requirement that the Board use an impartial fact-finder to hold an evidentiary hearing. Citing the more lenient standard of impartiality required in administrative proceedings, the court noted that the Board’s lack of neutrality was permissible absent a clear showing of actual bias. In this case, it was reasonable to expect that the Board would utilize staff from the County Office of Education, including the County Superintendent and counsel for the County Office, to investigate and make recommendations concerning the charter revocation.
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F3 NewsFlash prepared by Namita Brown and Emily Sugrue.
Namita is a partner in the F3 Oakland office.
Emily is an associate in the F3 Oakland office.
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