Location of Charter School Resource Centers Limited by Court of Appeal

October 2016

Charter schools providing nonclassroom-based instruction to students may now have clarity with regard to the applicable limits on where student resource centers may be located if a new appellate court decision stands.  Specifically, the California Court of Appeal recently held that these charter schools generally may not operate resource centers outside of their authorizing school district’s boundaries even if they are within the same county.  (Anderson Union High School Dist. v. Shasta Secondary Home School (10/17/16, Case No. C078491).) 

Current law sets forth specific restrictions on where a charter school may locate its programs.  The interpretation of those laws as they relate to a charter school’s ability to operate programs outside the boundaries of its authorizing district, however, has been a source of significant debate within the education community in recent years, and has spurred litigation across the state. 

To this end, the Anderson Union High School District sued the Shasta Secondary Home School (“SSHS”), a charter school authorized by the Shasta Union High School District, when it learned that in 2013, SSHS opened a new resource center within Anderson’s boundaries.  The resource center is open three days a week and students may check out instructional materials, use the computer workstations, work on assignments, and receive tutoring. 

The trial court found that SSHS’s resource center in Anderson was lawful and held that the geographical restrictions described in the law that were at issue only applied to charter schools that offer classroom-based instruction to students.  Anderson appealed the decision and the Court of Appeal reversed.  In its decision, the Court explained that, under current law, a charter school authorized by a school district must be located within that school district’s boundaries, unless an express exception applies.  These exceptions include:

  • The “Independent Study/Adjacent County” Exception.  A charter school may open a resource center, meeting space, or satellite facility in an adjacent county if the space is used to provide educational support to students enrolled in independent study.  However, for this exception to apply, the majority of the charter school’s students must receive instruction in, and be residents of, the home county of the authorizing district.
  • The “Unavailability” Exception.  A charter school may open one site outside of its authorizing district’s boundaries, but within the same home county, if the charter school has attempted, but is unable, to locate its entire program within the authorizing district because a facility or site is unavailable.  This exception may also apply if the charter school needs to operate its program at a temporary, alternative site during a construction or expansion project. 
  • The “Partnership” Exception.  A charter school may operate outside of its authorizing district’s boundaries if it provides instruction to students exclusively in partnership with the federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998, federally affiliated Youth Build programs, federal job corps training or instruction, California Conservation Corps or a certified local conservation corps.  This exception may also apply to charter schools that provide instruction to students in juvenile court schools and to students who are placed in a residential facility under certain circumstances. 

The Court rejected SSHS’s argument that the geographical restrictions in the Act only apply to classroom-based programs and notably held that all charter schools, regardless of the type of program they provide to students, must operate within the boundaries of their authorizing district, again, unless one of the statutory exceptions applies. 

The decision is now subject to reconsideration and/or appeal to the California Supreme Court.  Accordingly, we will continue to monitor this case and report back on any significant developments and their potential implications on affected school districts.  In the meantime, if your district has authorized a charter school that has resource centers operating outside of your boundaries but within the same county, or if your district has charter school resource centers within your boundaries that you did not authorize, we recommend that you consult with your legal counsel to determine whether this new case has implications for your district and any available options.

If you have any questions regarding this decision or any other matter relating to charter schools, please call one of our six offices.

F3 NewsFlash prepared by Elizabeth (Lisa) Mori, Leslie Lacher and John Norlin.
Lisa is a Partner in the F3 Oakland office.
Leslie is a Senior Associate in the F3 San Diego office.
John is Special Counsel in the F3 San Diego office.

This F3 NewsFlash is a summary only and not legal advice.  We recommend that you consult with legal counsel to determine how this legal development may apply to your specific facts and circumstances.  Information on a free NewsFlash subscription can be found at www.f3law.com.

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