Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am


County challenges charter school admissions process

The Santa Clara County Office of Education sent a letter to Bullis Charter School last week ordering administrators to correct their enrollment practices to conform to state law.

After a local resident complained that Bullis Charter School was requiring applicants’ parents to provide a driver’s license, the county requested that the practice stop.

“We believe that Bullis’ driver’s license/visa requirement will likely deter, if not prohibit, participation in the admission process by students whose parents are foreign national and/or undocumented,” states the county’s letter, signed by Superintendent Xavier De La Torre.

The letter outlines the approved documents for verifying residency, which include a property-tax payment receipt; a rental property contract, lease or payment receipt; a utility service contract, statement or payment receipt; a paycheck stub; proof of voter registration; correspondence from a government agency; or a declaration of residency executed by a parent or legal guardian of the pupil.

The county’s letter also admonished the Bullis Charter School Board of Directors for violating the Brown Act – the state’s open-meetings law – by holding a special meeting of the board outside of Los Altos School District boundaries Feb. 6.

Although Bullis Charter School can technically accept students from around the state, its charter – issued by the county – states that it must operate within the geographic limits of the Los Altos School District, making its territorial jurisdiction within district boundaries, according to the letter.

“We recognize there are exceptions to the boundary restriction,” the letter states. “However after reviewing the posted agenda, it does not appear that the business conducted by the Bullis Board of Directors falls within the exceptions.”

The letter concludes with a warning that if the charter school fails to modify its enrollment practices and to comply with Brown Act requirements, the county could revoke its charter.

Bullis Charter School representative Jay Reed told the Town Crier that charter school officials would not discuss the letter until they review it with county officials.

County oversight

The notice comes late for families who may have been deterred by the enrollment requirement this year – the charter’s school’s open enrollment period ended Jan. 31.

When asked if the county oversees its charter schools’ enrollment procedures annually, county board member Grace Mah said there is an annual process wherein the county reviews each charter school’s policies and procedures.

The Santa Clara County Office of Education website states that the county is responsible for annually monitoring charter schools, including a review of the schools’ plans and practices to achieve student balance, admission requirements and programs to respond to diverse student needs, such as students with special needs and English Language Learners.

Mah confirmed that there was no county oversight during the charter school’s open enrollment period, Nov. 1 to Jan. 31.

“We don’t have direct oversight of the enrollment process,” she said. “Unfortunately, we only have the bandwidth to work off complaints.”

Mah said local residents first notified the county of the enrollment procedure three or four weeks ago.

The county plans to enforce the letter, Mah said, by sending an observer to review Bullis Charter School’s enrollment process next year.

This is not the first time the county board has asked the charter school to modify an enrollment procedure – the charter school has required parents to present Social Security cards in the past, an unlawful practice. When asked it other consequences besides the letter were considered, Mah answered no.

When asked if the county could improve its oversight of Bullis Charter School, Mah responded “absolutely.” Although the county is required to visit each charter school only once a year, Mah said she hopes that oversight and responsiveness to community complaints will increase with the evolution of the county’s new charter school legal counsel department.

Mah sits on the seven-member county board of education, which is the governing body of the Santa Clara County Office of Education. The superintendent’s office, which did not respond to questions regarding county oversight of charter schools, is responsible for day-to-day operations of county programs, including charter schools.

“I think it’s an unfortunate situation that Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos community have such a difficult time working together,” Mah said. “As authorizers, we can do our oversight, but we need the constructive cooperation of the community and of Bullis.”

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