Parents deliver lawsuit against Huntington Park over charter ban
Craig Clough | November 4, 2016
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Parents and supporters of charter school students on Friday delivered a lawsuit to the Huntington Park City Council and Mayor Graciela Ortiz in response to the council’s recent enactment of a one-year ban on new charter schools in the city’s limits.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday by the California Charter Schools Association in Los Angeles County Superior Court and calls the council’s moratorium “unlawful,” “politically motivated” and “discriminatory.”
“It’s pretty clear to us that the city of Huntington Park had no legal basis for passing this moratorium. But more importantly, parents are really frustrated that the city is preventing them from having better schools and more options,” CCSA’s Advocacy Communications Director Jason Mandell said.
Roughly 60 parents and supporters were present at the event, Mandell said. Huntington Park City Hall is closed on Fridays, so the lawsuit and a signed statement from some parents were slipped into the building’s mailbox, Mandell said.
In September, the City Council voted 4-1 to place a 45-day moratorium on new charters in the city, and then in October voted to extend the moratorium to a full year. The votes came in response to a September report from City Manager Edgar Cisneros, which said charter schools “impact the public’s health, safety, and welfare by creating impacts on parking, vehicle circulation, and noise on-site and within the surrounding vicinity. Certain locations within the City have already experienced adverse impacts due to charter schools.”
The report also recommended the council move to amend the city’s municipal code to:
• Establish a distance requirement to other schools and sensitive receptors.
• Establish a new off-street parking calculation for the amount of required parking.
• Limit the zoning districts in which charter schools are conditionally permitted.
The report also said, “The City has received numerous inquiries and requests for the establishment and operation of charter schools within the City that may be incompatible with current land uses and the General Plan,” and that the city’s municipal code “does not have development standards specifically for charter schools.”
“I’m very disappointed. I am totally opposed to that moratorium because I feel that we are not being given choices. We have more shops than schools and I feel that they shouldn’t be limiting our choice when it comes to education,” said Rosalinda Mercado, a parent of two charter students in Huntington Park. “We have an extensive boulevard of shops, nothing but shops. And if they are really concerned about traffic, I am just very upset, it doesn’t make sense.”
The CCSA lawsuit made a number of legal arguments, chief among them that the council has no legal right to limit or control the growth of charter schools.
“The city’s politically motivated and discriminatory prohibition of public charter schools, but no other educational institutions, for a full educational year conflicts with California’s policy of expanded educational choices. The moratorium therefore is void and unenforceable as a matter of law,” the CCSA lawsuit states.
Charters are publicly financed but independently operated schools. Huntington Park currently has 10 independent charters operating within its boundaries, according to Mandell. The schools are authorized and supervised by local school boards, county school boards or the state board. LA Unified, which includes Huntington Park, has more charter schools and students within its boundaries than any other district in the country. There are also 16 LA Unified traditional schools located on 14 campuses.
The lawsuit also says the city violated California’s Environmental Quality Act because it conducted no environmental review before enacting the moratorium.
Because most charter schools do not employ union labor, the LA teachers union, UTLA, has been publicly opposed to their growth. In identifying the alleged political motivation cited in the lawsuit, Mandell pointed out that UTLA contributed to the 2015 reelection campaign of Huntington Park Councilman Jhonny Pineda, and that Mayor Ortiz is a member of UTLA through her other job as a school counselor at Linda Esperanza Marquez High School in Huntington Park. Both Pineda and Ortiz supported the moratorium.
“It’s hard to ignore the fact that UTLA has contributed to at least one of the city council members. It’s hard to ignore that connection,” Mandell said.
According to Mandell, the charter schools in Huntington Park outperform the traditional schools, and high school charter students in the city last year had a completion rate of 98 percent on the A through G standards, compared to 49 percent for district schools. A-G classes are a set of courses that LA Unified students must pass in order to graduate.
Members of the Huntington Park City Council did not respond to a request for comment.
* Updated to include the number of traditional schools in Huntington Park.