Shell Game

Closed Session...significant exposure to litigation pursuant to paragraph (2) or (3) of subdivision (d) of Section 54956.9: 1 Case

- El Camino Real Alliance Board Meeting Agenda

A surefire way to rile up a charter advocate is to compare charters to “public schools”. In response, they will claim that “Charters [SIC] schools are public schools.” While one could argue that not all charters are truly non-sectarian, some illegally charge student fees and as a whole, they are not open to any student who wishes to attend, there is one thing that makes them “public”; charters operate using taxpayer funds. As a result, their Governing Boards in California are subject to the Brown Act requirement that “all meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public, and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.”

One of the exemptions provided in the Brown Act is for a legislative body “to confer with, or receive advice from, its legal counsel when open discussion would prejudice the position of the local agency in litigation in which the agency is a party.” As previously reported, El Camino Real Charter High School (ECRCHS), used this exemption as a justification for retreating into closed session at their July 19, 2016, special Board meeting beginning a shell game to divert the public’s attention. However, their failure to reference the actual case raises questions about whether it met the “narrow purposes” of avoiding “revealing confidential information” or compromising “the privacy interests of employees.” Furthermore, withholding this information from the public interfered with the stakeholders’ right to publicly comment on the issue before the session was closed.

One parent tried to find out more about the case that was discussed behind closed doors by requesting copies of “any legal filing served on the school in the last year”. This parent found out last week that the school is still not willing to divulge any additional information claiming her “request seeks documents that are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Government Code sections 6254(k) and 6255.” The Law Offices of Young, Minney & Corr, LLP specifically cited Government Code section 6254(k) that exempts from disclosure documents under the “evidence code relating to privilege.” It is unclear how the requested documents would fall under this section of code as the parent specifically asked for the legal filing, not the evidence that had been gathered. Unless sealed by a judge, legal filings are public record. Eye still on the correct shell, how else will the Board avoid disclosing what they were discussing during the closed session?

The charter’s lawyer shuffles the shells once more by stating that “the only responsive records in the possession of El Camino Real Charter High School consist of special education due process complaints.” Nothing to see here folks, we were only talking about denying services to those with special needs, not “our kids.” Left unexplained is how “1 Case” involving special education could cause “significant exposure” for the charter and therefore would require a meeting out of the public eye. If charters are not cherry picking out those with special needs, why would such a case require the action of the Governing Board? If charters serve all students, why should the public not know why ECRCHS is trying to deny services to the student named in a due process complaint? It is starting to look like there is something under more than one shell.

Next, the charter’s lawyer claims that these documents contain “personally identifiable student information” that “is exempt from disclosure pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99).” While the privacy of students must be protected under legal and ethical standards, this should not stand in the way of the public release of these documents. At a minimum, the law permits student and parent names and other identifying information to be redacted before releasing them to the public. While the charter claims that there is “no reasonably segregable portion of the records responsive to [the] Public Records Act request that is disclosable after deletion of the portion that is exempted by law, this is not their call. The law requires that public agencies release as much information as possible and it is up to the requester to determine if this is useful for their needs. The search for the truth continues.

The final shuffle of the shells occurs with the statement that “disclosure of this information would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy and the public interest served by not disclosing the records clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the records. (Govt. Code §6255)”. (emphasis mine) It is strange that a lawyer would use the word “clearly” without having made any arguments of why this disclosure would not serve any public interest. Clearly, there is a problem when one publicly funded charter is presented with “a voluminous amount” of special education due process complaints within just one year. If these students eventually end up attending LAUSD schools so that they can get their needed services, then the related costs will affect all public schools within the District while ECRCHS achieves lower per-pupil costs. Therefore, the public does have a significant interest in knowing the contents of these legal filings.

It is clear that the ECRCHS Governing Board is not interested in disclosing to the public what they discussed behind closed doors on July 19. Unfortunately for them, they have also proven to be inept conmen as the shell game that they have created to avoid disclosure actually shines a light on the fact that they are attempting to privatize education; any shell one picks divulges how they fail to meet the definition of “public school”.