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Magnolia may take legal action if charters are denied, calls on board President Zimmer to recuse himself

LA School Report | October 18, 2016



Alfredo Rubalcava, Magnolia's chief external officer, with other representatives waiting for buses.

Alfredo Rubalcava, Magnolia’s chief external officer, with other representatives outside LAUSD headquarters Tuesday afternoon.

Magnolia Public Schools, facing a Tuesday afternoon vote that could shut down three of its schools, is prepared to take legal action and is calling on board President Steve Zimmer to recuse himself based on “a level of bias.”

A letter sent Tuesday by a law firm on Magnolia’s behalf lays out its response to the denial recommendations for three of the charter management organization’s schools and says it is prepared to take legal action if its schools are shut down, citing “discriminatory practices in violation of state and federal law.”

It also states that the reasons laid out for district denial are “merely a pretext for the real reasons LAUSD seeks to close these schools” and that concerns were not brought up with Magnolia prior to last week’s release of the staff report.

In addition, the letter calls for board President Steve Zimmer to recuse himself from the votes based on statements he gave to the Los Angeles Times “that indicate a level of bias.” It notes that Zimmer made his comments prior to the release of the staff report. “This sort of predetermination of outcome evidences the very sort of probability of actual bias that is of concern to the courts,” the letter states.

Zimmer declined to comment Tuesday afternoon.

“The staff report was inaccurate and did a disservice to the thousands of students, family members, teachers and staff who have worked so hard to build some of the best schools in Los Angeles Unified,” Magnolia CEO Caprice Young said Tuesday afternoon. “The district should be focusing on these schools’ tremendous academic outcomes as well as the fact that the state auditor confirmed that we fulfilled all of its recommendations, therefore making our organization fiscally and operationally sound.

“Instead, they’re choosing to focus on things that have nothing to do with education.”

Young also noted that on Monday the organization allowed the district’s Office of Inspector General to scan documents it had demanded containing the social security numbers and birth dates of all of its staff, teachers and students since Magnolia started operating in 2002.

“These are the final documents” in “a monstrous records inquiry,” she said, adding that Magnolia couldn’t agree to the release until the district promised to protect the confidentiality of the information. Without that, the personal data would be available to the public. “For anyone to say that we have been anything less than transparent and forthcoming is just not true.”

The letter with Magnolia’s response was sent to board members around noon Tuesday as they headed into the third of four board sessions for the day. The charters recommended for denial will come up for a board vote in the last session, scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

About 50 charter school representatives had gathered outside the downtown Beaudry headquarters by midafternoon. Magnolia is expecting 450 of its community members to attend. “We have three buses coming. School ended at 2,” said Magnolia’s chief external officer Alfredo Rubalcava. “We take this very seriously.”

Parents at El Camino Real Charter High School are also considering legal action if their school loses its charter, Lisa Dawn Miller, a parent at the school, said in an email. Parents “are ready to take legal action against the LAUSD if they violate our rights and the rights of our students,” Miller wrote in a letter sent Friday to local and state officials calling on them to demand oversight of LA Unified.

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