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Important New Charter School Rules You Might Not Be Prepared to Implement

TELECONFERENCING, CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, AND DISCOURAGING STUDENTS FROM ENROLLING: SB 126 AND SB 75 ARE HERE: ARE YOU READY?

By Procopio Partners John C. Lemmo and Greta A. Proctor and Associate Merrick A. Wadsworth

Transparency and SB 126

Beginning January 1, 2020, California charter schools and CMOs considered to “manage”* charters must comply with government agency transparency rules and perform new and different teleconferencing procedures for board meetings.  The transparency requirements include the Brown Act open meeting rules; Public Records Act; and conflict of interest rules including Gov. Code section 1090, the Political Reform Act and the prohibition against holding “incompatible” offices—an example of which might be a charter board member serving as a city planning commissioner in a location where the charter is seeking a land use permit. 

With the New Year quickly approaching, here is a checklist to make sure your school is in compliance with SB 126:

  • For governing board meetings, do you have two-way teleconference locations set up at each school site—including resource centers?
    • Now is the time to prepare, especially if your governing board meets outside of regular school hours. 
  • Governing board meetings must be held within your county
    • For charter organizations with school in multiple counties, the governing board must meet in the county where the majority of your students reside (note:  the qualifying county might change over time.)
    • Charter organizations with schools in multiple counties must also record governing board meetings and post the recordings on the school’s website.
    • SB 126 teleconferencing, location and recording requirements do not apply to committees—only to the governing board itself. 
  • Has your organization adopted and processed a Conflict of Interest Code under the Political Reform Act?
    • Every charter school operator must adopt a “code” that identifies position titles and disclosure categories (i.e., various personal economic interests) through your local county or the FPPC.
    • Even schools that previously filed under their authorizer’s code will now need a code of their own—so you might need to revisit and revise your authorizer MOU.
    • There is a multi-step process for adopting a Code, and depending on where you operate, the process can take several months.  Get started now. 

(Dis)Enrollment, Notices, Complaints and SB 75

SB 75 prohibits charters from discouraging any pupil from seeking to enroll, or encouraging existing pupil to dis-enroll for any reason including academic underperformance, EL status, socioeconomics, disability, foster status, homelessness, race or ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation.  This applies even when a parent or student merely seeks information about the school (e.g., attends informational meeting or picks up enrollment materials), applies for enrollment, and when actually enrolled. 

Charters must inform parent/student of this requirement and provide access to a “Complaint Notice and Form” as soon as a parent/student expresses interest in the school. The notice must be posted on the charter school’s website, and the school must provide copies of the notice: (1) when a parent, guardian, or pupil asks about enrollment; (2) before conducting an enrollment lottery; and (3) before disenrollment of a pupil.  Also, charter schools are prohibited from requiring or even requesting a pupil’s records prior to actual enrollment. The CDE has posted information and a template compliant form on its website.

So with the New Year fast approaching, make sure you’re ready to comply with these immediately applicable laws.  Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information and assistance. 

* SB 126 does not define what "managing" means for nonprofits. It is anticipated that many authorizers will apply the for-profit standard set forth in Education Code section 47604(b)(2).
 

John C. Lemmo is a Partner at Procopio and Co-Chairs its Education and Charter Schools, and Public Agencies practice groups. John counsels charter schools, public agencies and nonprofits on all aspects of operations, facilities, governance and other regulatory and oversight issues, and has litigated many of the most significant charter school lawsuits in the state. He is actively involved in legislative, regulatory and rulemaking processes on behalf of charter school operators. John is a frequent presenter at state and national charter school conferences and numerous other professional and academic organizations, and as an educator lectures on charter school law and policy, public education, and public agency law at law schools, colleges, and universities throughout California. John also represents municipalities and private developers in matters involving real estate, environmental and land use regulation, and litigation. He has extensive experience working with, and on behalf of, local and state governmental and regulatory agencies on permitting, entitlement, compliance and environmental enforcement matters.

Greta A. Proctor is a Partner at Procopio and a member of its Education and Charter Schools practice group. Based in Los Angeles, Greta is experienced in California education and public agency law. She primarily represents charter schools, school districts and those in the education space, but she also counsels hospitals, other nonprofits and public agencies. For charter schools, Greta advises on a variety of operational, funding and regulatory issues. These include governance, development of school policies, contracts, authorizer relations, Brown Act compliance and public records, ethics and transparency laws, audits and compliance reviews, facility issues, student privacy, admissions and more. Greta regularly assists on new petitions, renewals and revocations, including appeals at the county and state levels. Greta has presented at national charter schools conferences on complex charter and CMO tax exemption issues. She is also a regular presenter at California Charter Schools Association conferences and workshops. Greta works with numerous and diverse education clients on replication and protection of the educational model, sustainable growth and creative partnerships. She is actively engaged in education issues and policy.

Merrick A. Wadsworth is an Associate at Procopio and a member of its Education and Charter Schools practice group. He focuses his practice on advising public agencies and charter schools on a variety of issues regarding governance, contracts, conflicts of interest, real property acquisition, the Ralph M. Brown Act, and the California Public Records Act. He regularly advises charter school clients on entity formation, planning, and relations with charter authorizers, and also assists with new charter submissions, appeals, revocation proceedings, and renewals at all levels—local, county, and state. Merrick also has experience assisting with various phases of civil litigation and appeals. Prior to joining Procopio, Merrick was a law clerk at the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California, Civil Division where he assisted on cases involving bankruptcy, employment, and medical malpractice issues.  Prior to law school, Merrick worked as a substitute teacher in all grade levels at the Kings County Office of Education.