Editor's note: This story has been corrected to clarify that the non-profit group the Huttlinger Alliance for Education has applied to have so-called "friend of the court" status, and not to intervene. Patch is making this correction to ensure that terms that have legal meaning are accurate. Patch has also corrected parent Joe Seither's title.
A group of parents filed for legal standing in the long-running facilities dispute between the Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District Monday, contending that neither party has fully considered the “profound impact” on all students in the district, “especially LASD’s most vulnerable students.”
The non-profit group, called the Huttlinger Alliance for Education, filed an application to file a brief appear as amicus curiae, or "friend of the court" in the BCS' Proposition 39 dispute over facilities with the Los Altos School District.
Special education students, English language learners (ELL), socio-economically disadvantaged children and Hispanics would be adversely affected by a judgment BCS proposes for 2012-13 and 2013-14, according to watchdog group The Huttlinger Alliance for Education.
“We have a really different viewpoint from LASD,” said Elena Shea, president of the organization. “We are trying to make additional arguments that LASD can't or haven't made. BCS doesn't want to wait, but from the LASD parents' view we want to do what is fair for all the students."
ELL, Hispanics and socio-economically disadvantaged groups at Egan Jr. High School would receive six times less space than BCS’ other 7th and 8th graders under the arrangement for the coming school year, and stand to lose even more space if BCS is granted its proposed order, according to the brief. The BCS proposal to be given one of four campuses—Almond, Gardner Bullis, Santa Rita or part of Covington schools—would have an even greater impact, and on “the lion’s share” of those three school populations, the group contends.
The brief includes sworn testimony by parents of the special education children, who said they were forced to withdraw from BCS because of neglect or outright hostility of the administration, or were not admitted to BCS despite living in the preferred enrollment area.
“These (stories) are pretty powerful and I think that it’s courageous of these families to come forward with these stories and make them public,” Shea said. “These are families who were not only discovering their children have special needs that have to be addressed, but they were having difficulty in getting the school to address and finally had to leave.”
It illustrates, she said, a pattern of neglect that serves to shut out such students.
The non-profit group was formed to "promote and protect the value of public education," but it lays out its other concern in its brief:
“It was also formed, frankly, because BCS’ relentless 10-year litigation strategy has caused concern that LASD will ignore applicable law and good educational practices, and make decisions to the detriment of the students they educate, in order to end a yearly trip to this Court.”
The group, which formed quickly over the summer, turned in 200 signatures as an example of its support, and is seeking more as families return from summer vacations, Shea said. It has Los Altos Hills, Mountain View and Los Altos parents on its board, including Jennifer Carlstrom, Linda Baxley, Kelly Tosach, Joe Seither, Noah Mesel, Ann Wolff and Sheila McGovern, who actively participated in public meetings last spring, criticizing a framework for an agreement they said favored BCS over more numerous district students.
Seither, who is former co-chair of the Los Altos Education Foundation as well, said that he first heard about E.O. "Hutt" Huttlinger from his father-in-law, among the "old-timers" who remember the passion with which the longtime businessman led a group to stop the school district from selling Covington School land, and who was a fixture at school board meetings. They draw their inspiration from his commitment for the public good, he said.
If granted legal standing, the group intends to argue that BCS doesn’t qualify for Prop. 39 facilities because it charges tuition in the form of a $5,000 donation the school requests from each family, a request that makes it uncomfortable for families who lag.
"BCS is not in compliance with Proposition 39 because it charges defacto tuition and discriminates against students with severe learning disabilities, the amicus brief charges. Moreover, BCS' proposed order does not 'share fairly among all public school students.' It discriminates against Hispanic, socioeconomically disadvataged and English language learner (ELL) students."
BCS Chairman Ken Moore said the briefs went over old ground, issues he said he addressed in an October 2011 letter to the Santa Clara County Board of Education when the school was facing renewal of its charter.
“It’s really an opinion piece by folks who are not party to the case,” Moore said.
“These are the same baseless accusations that people have been making for the past year at the county level,” he said, looking down the list.
“It’s not tuition, it’s a donation. We have a lottery every year and a lot of people don’t get in. When people don’t get in, they get mad," he said. Until the judge decides whether to accept the application for status, however, the amicus curiae brief filed is just an opinion, he said.