Geographic Restrictions Apply to Nonclassroom-Based Charters
On October 17, 2016, the California Court of Appeal of the Third Appellate District in Anderson Union High School District v. Shasta Secondary Home School held geographic restrictions in Education Code sections 47605 and 47605.1 apply to all charter schools, whether classroom-based or nonclassroom-based.
The Charter Schools Act of 1992 (Ed. Code § 47600 et seq. "Charter Schools Act") requires charter schools to operate within the geographic boundaries of the authorizing school district. (Ed. Code § 47605, subd. (a)(1).) Limited exceptions to this restriction include an exception for a resource center, meeting space, or other satellite facility located in an adjacent county, provided certain conditions are met. (Ed. Code § 47605.1, subd. (c).) The impetus behind this legislation, as noted by the Court on appeal, was to "enhance school districts’ oversight of satellite charter operations, given concerns that some remote locations were operating in violation of several laws."
Shasta Secondary Home School ("SSHS"), a nonclassroom-based charter school authorized by Shasta Union High School District ("SUHSD"), provided educational services for home schooled students. SSHS operated two resource centers within the boundaries of SUHSD to provide tutoring and work stations for students. In 2013, SSHS opened a third resource center at East Cottonwood Elementary School, seeking to serve students in southern Shasta and northern Tehama Counties. This resource center was located within Shasta County but outside SUHSD’s boundaries, and instead within the boundaries of plaintiff Anderson Union High School District ("AUHSD").
AUHSD claimed it was harmed by the location of the resource center within its boundaries because it had lost funding when its students chose to go to SSHS. AUHSD challenged whether SSHS, a district-authorized nonclassroom-based charter, could locate a resource center outside the geographic boundaries of the authorizing school district but within the same county. The trial court denied AUHSD’s claims, ruling that geographic limitations of the Charter Schools Act only applied to "classroom-based charters." AUHSD successfully appealed this ruling.
SSHS contended that subdivision (a) of section 47605 applied only to classroom-based charter schools, and not to nonclassroom-based charter schools. SSHS claimed that the Legislature treated the two types of charters differently in other contexts, so the two types should likewise be treated differently regarding geographical limitations. Additionally, SSHS argued that it would be "absurd" to restrict satellite sites within the county but not outside of the county. The Court founds SSHS’ arguments without merit.
The Court found it "untenable" to interpret section 47605(a)’s geographic restrictions to apply only to classroom-based and not to nonclassroom-based charter schools because nothing in section 47605(a) distinguishes between these types of charter schools, and there is no separate procedure for establishing a nonclassroom-based charter school aside from section 47605. Further, the Court found it reasonable to interpret the Charter Schools Act as prohibiting placement of a resource center outside the boundaries of the authorizing school district but within the same county, because "[o]perating a resource center within the county but outside the boundaries of the authorizing school district, without a county charter, in effect creates a countywide charter school without the necessary finding for its establishment." The exception to the general geographic location rules that allows nonclassroom–based resource centers, satellites, and similar facilities to locate in an adjacent county does not authorize such facilities within the same county. The court also rejected SSHS’ argument that the geographic location rules simply do not apply to resource centers and similar sites. The Court concluded that the East Cottonwood Elementary School resource center, located in the same county but outside the boundaries of its authorizing district, did not fall within any location exception and therefore ran afoul of the Charter Schools Act.
As such, relying on the plain meaning of Education Code sections 47605 and 47605.1, the Court reversed the lower decision and resolved that "a charter school authorized by a school district is to be located and operate entirely within the geographic boundaries of the authorizing school district, unless one of the specific exceptions of section 47605.1 applies."
Many nonclassroom-based charters are currently operating outside the boundaries of their authorizing districts but within the same county. This decision will likely impact the ongoing operations of such locations.