At county’s urging, Bullis Charter suspends enrollment preference

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Town Crier File Photo
Bullis Charter School has agreed to formally suspend its enrollment preference at all grade levels for students living in the Bullis-Purissima attendance area.

Bullis Charter School has reached an agreement with the Santa Clara County Office of Education to fully suspend its enrollment preference at all grade levels for students living within the former Bullis-Purissima School attendance boundaries.

In October, the charter school agreed to suspend the preference for students enrolling in kindergarten. The formal agreement with the county, which took effect Jan. 1, extends the suspension to all students for the rest of Bullis Charter School’s current charter, which runs through June 2022. To reinstate the preference, the charter school would need to receive explicit approval from the county office of education or its board.

According to Alan Simpson, the charter school’s chief communications officer, there are no plans to revisit the preference, and the agreement formalizes what Bullis Charter School had agreed to last fall.

“Originally (the preference) dates back to the founding of Bullis as what was the revival of a neighborhood school, so it’s a historically based preference,” Simpson said. “But for a long time, BCS has been focused on serving students all over the district.”

Charter school board president Joe Hurd referred a request for an interview to Simpson, who said he would be responding to media inquiries.

Debated preference

The five-year facilities agreement signed by the Los Altos School District and the charter school in 2014 called for the preference to be decreased for incoming kindergarten classes starting in 2015-2016, until it reached zero in 2019-2020.

School district officials contend that they thought the preference was being phased out permanently, while charter school leaders have said it was only ever restricted for those five years. Last June, charter school officials said in a letter to the school district that the preference would return for the 2020-2021 school year.

The school district wrote a letter to the county in September, asking it to reject the enrollment preference, calling it “a discriminatory admissions preference that gives priority to students who reside in the wealthiest and least socioeconomically diverse area within LASD.”

In a letter to the school district, county Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan expressed “surprise and disappointment at the unnecessarily aggressive and confrontational tone” of the district’s letter and said it misstated the county’s position and actions.

However, Dewan also wrote to the charter school, saying the county was “concerned” the Bullis-Purissima preference could violate a state education code prohibiting enrollment preferences that limit access for certain groups, including economically disadvantaged students. Dewan gave the charter school the choice to either thoroughly explain why it wouldn’t violate the education code or not implement the preference.

The charter school chose the latter option, saying it would continue to suspend the preference for incoming kindergartners, while also objecting to allegations that it discriminated against underserved students.

The school district wrote again to the county, asking that the preference be suspended for all grades.

Dewan responded to Bullis Charter School in December that the county was “surprised” to learn the charter school was proposing to suspend the preference only for kindergarten students and that it must be suspended in its entirety.

“Our concern was not limited only to the application of this preference to incoming kindergarten students, nor could it be so limited since the potential impact on economically disadvantaged students would clearly not be restricted by student grade level,” Dewan wrote.

The charter school’s board approved an updated agreement with the county at a special meeting Dec. 23. Board members Clara Roa and Andrea Eyring were absent.

The county office of education responded to questions via email but did not make anyone available for an interview before the Town Crier’s deadline.

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