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By Collin Breaux
After the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees reached a standstill while deciding on an application for a new charter school, the petitioners behind California Republic Leadership Academy (CRLA) are turning to a different educational governing board for possible approval.
CRLA is appealing its application to the Orange County Board of Education (OCBE), after the CUSD Board of Trustees effectively took no action following split votes on both approving and denying the prospective school’s charter petition.
The CUSD Board of Trustees is down one member following the resignation of former Trustee Pamela Braunstein. Michael Parham is the projected winner in the election for the vacant seat and will likely be sworn in next month.
Charter school applicants can appeal to OCBE if they are denied by a school district. CRLA announced through its Instagram page on Nov. 15 that it would appeal. San Clemente parent Kevin Pratt—a major figure instrumental in creating CRLA—subsequently confirmed on Monday, Nov. 28, that the applicant team already submitted the appeal.
“We’ve had great support to this point, and through our website and other channels, we continue to get new families expressing interest every week,” Pratt said. “We are still planning on approval and an August 2023 opening.”
Pratt did not have further comments. OCBE Trustee Tim Shaw said CRLA is expected to be discussed at their December meeting, though no vote on approval will happen then.
The Orange County Department of Education, of which OCBE is a part, outlines the charter school appeal process on its website. A petitioner can appeal a denied petition within 30 days of the denial, according to the education department.
Education department staff reviews the appeal petition and, if applicable, school district findings related to the petition.
Ahead of the CUSD trustees’ Nov. 9 meeting, district staff issued a scathing report about CRLA’s plans, recommending the charter be denied for numerous reasons, including projected negative financial impacts to the district and having an unclear educational and operational plan.
Part of CRLA’s intended curriculum and education includes instructing students about what are considered “the classics” in learning and American history, teaching students critical thinking skills, requiring students to wear uniforms, not allowing students access to smartphones during school time, requiring a professional appearance of faculty and staff and fostering respect between students and teachers.
According to its guidelines for charter appeals, OCBE is expected to hold a public hearing on the provisions of the petition within 60 days for the purpose of considering the level of support for the petition by teachers employed by the school district, other employees of the school district and parents.
“Charter school and school district representatives are allotted 15 minutes each to address the Board, followed by 30 minutes of public comments,” the guidelines state. “Any documents or digital presentations utilized on that day must be submitted 48 hours prior to the board meeting.”
Other actions the OCBE can take with an appealed petition are to remand it back to the school district and/or hold a “clarification meeting” with the petitions and the county education department’s review team.
OCBE can either grant or deny a petition within 90 days of receipt.
“OCBE shall grant a charter for the operation of a school if it is satisfied that granting the charter is consistent with sound educational practice and with the interests of the community in which the school is proposing to locate,” the guidelines said.
CRLA’s proposal has drawn backlash from some South Orange County residents, including within the Marblehead Elementary School community in San Clemente, because of a perception that the school would take over space at an existing campus.
Pratt has mentioned looking into using existing campus space at underutilized schools under an existing measure known as Proposition 39.
District officials and staff have said that if Proposition 39 were enacted in this case, the district would need to first do an analysis of available school sites before making any such decision—and that decision would be up to the district.
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.