San Luis Coastal circumventing state guidelines in effort to close Teach
February 18, 2013
The San Luis Coastal Unified School District is circumventing California Department of Education guidelines on closing a school in its apparent effort to shut down Teach Elementary.
The district is considering closing Teach, an accelerated learning school for 4th through 6th grades that shares a campus with Bishop’s Peak Elementary. Both overcrowding and philosophical reasons factor into the proposal of closing Teach.
In exploring the option of shutting Teach down, San Luis Coastal is bypassing a set of best practices for closing a school created by the state department of education.
Although not law, the best practices guide consists of a five-step process for closing a school. A major element within the first step of fact gathering is forming a district advisory committee of seven to 11 community members to provide input to the district on the closure process. The advisory committee would hold open meetings subject to the Brown Act.
California Department of Education Closing a School Best Practices Guide states, “It is legislative intent, but not a mandate for a district to have and use a District Advisory Committee.”
Additionally, Education Code Section 17387 states, “It is the intent of the legislature to have the community involved before decisions are made about school closure.”
But, Assistant Superintendent Rick Robinett says the best practices guidelines do not apply to the circumstances surrounding the possible closure of Teach.
“The guide is written primarily for the consideration of school closures as a way of dealing with issues of declining enrollment and/or budget,” Robinett wrote in an email to CalCoastNews. “Conversely, the decisions about capacity issues (over-enrollment), the housing of two schools on one campus and philosophical differences about a school specifically for 4th through 6th grade accelerated learners are the lenses through which the Board of Education is viewing the decision.”
San Luis Obispo attorney Saro Rizzo said the district is disregarding the spirit of the law by not adhering to the best practices.
“It is the intent of the legislature to say that this is something that should not be done behind closed doors without public participation,” Rizzo said.
Following community protest and media questions, Superintendent Eric Prater issued a recommendation Friday that the board establish a task force at its upcoming meeting Tuesday. Prater says the task force would create “great conversation” on the style of learning offered at Teach and other methods of fostering high-proficiency learners . The proposed task force would consist of district staff, parents, education experts and members of the community.
But, as proposed, the task force would not function as the school-closure committee, discussed in the best practices guidelines.
Robinett says it is “a premature conclusion” to suggest that the district is proposing closing Teach.
Yet, in the superintendent’s recommendations for the board, Prater also suggests putting a one-year moratorium on 4th grade enrollment at Teach beginning this fall.
While Prater says the moratorium would serve to provide classrooms for neighborhood students on the Bishop’s Peak campus, critics says it is an attempt to incrementally shut down the school. Many parents believe the moratorium could last an additional two years, shutting down Teach altogether.
“It’s a way to kill the school under the guise of let’s be reasonable,” Teach parent Vanessa Rizzo said.
Rizzo helped circulate an online petition started by Teach parent Helen Sipsas, calling for the board to postpone action on Teach until the public participates in a more meaningful way. As of Monday, the petition received 697 digital signatures on the website change.org.
“In essence, I feel [Prater] has manipulated our message,” Rizzo said. “As parents we signed a petition saying that Teach be left alone for a year until we figure out the right thing to do.”