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Court overturns ruling giving more space to charter schools

December 6, 2012 |  3:02 pm

Eighth grade students from Gabriella Charter School practice interviews in the auditorium of Logan Street Elementary School that the two schools share in Nov. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles school district officials won a key legal battle with charter schools this week, when an appeals court struck down a ruling that could have opened up vast numbers of needed classrooms for charters, while also creating potential hardships for traditional neighborhood schools.

The decision means that charter schools will receive space in much the same way as traditional schools: If the Los Angeles Unified School District puts 26 students in a classroom, then charters will be given rooms based on the same assumption. The California Charter Schools Assn. had argued that its operators were entitled to more space because the district uses many rooms for purposes other than regular classroom instruction.

Charters are free, publicly funded schools that are independently operated. Under state law, school districts must offer space to charters that is “reasonably equivalent” to that provided for students in traditional schools.

The association had prevailed in Los Angeles Superior Court, but a three-judge appellate panel reversed that decision unanimously Wednesday.

The analysis offered by the association “may well have anomalous results,” wrote Judge Edward A. Ferns. “For example, the district would have to count classrooms that have been contracted for but not yet built and classrooms at closed school sites.” Ferns cited a ruling in another case in noting that a statute should not be construed to create “absurd results.”

L.A. Unified had painted a grim scenario, whereby charter students would enjoy small classes at a neighborhood campus that could see its own students bused elsewhere and deprived of rooms needed for services to disabled students and students learning English, among others.

“Hundreds of classrooms across the district” would have been affected, said attorney David Huff, who represented L.A. Unified. Charters would have been provided space at an average rate of 15 students per classroom, whereas the district average is about 26 per classroom, he said.

An attorney for the association challenged whether district students would have faced any hardships.

“There was no evidence to support any of those assertions,” said Julie Umansky. The original court order “would have required the district to go through its inventory and evaluate classroom space. We would hope that would have resulted in more classrooms available for charter schools.”

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Eighth grade students from Gabriella Charter School practice interviews in the auditorium of Logan Street Elementary School that the two schools share in Nov. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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