California Supreme Court Holds That County Board Revocation Procedures Provided Charter School With Constitutionally Adequate “Due Process”

On July 11, 2013, the California Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal that a charter school was afforded constitutionally adequate due process during revocation proceedings before the Los Angeles County Board of Education.  Since the Court of Appeal had reversed the decision of the trial court on the constitutional issue, the Supreme Court granted review in order to clarify the due process requirements under Education Code section 47607. (Today’s Fresh Start, Inc. v. Los Angeles County Office of Education (--- P.3d ----, Cal., July 11, 2013).

Facts

In 2003, the Los Angeles County Board of Education (“the Board”) approved the petition of Today’s Fresh Start, Inc. (“TFS”) to operate a countywide public charter school.  In accordance with its oversight function, the Los Angeles County Office of Education (“LACOE”) monitored TFS’ compliance with its charter and applicable laws.  In 2007, LACOE investigated concerns regarding TFS’ practices and procedures, concluded that improprieties existed, and notified TFS in writing of the specific deficiencies and the expected corrective actions.  After TFS had been given various opportunities to provide the LACOE administrative staff with additional information, the staff submitted evidence to the Board in support of a recommendation to revoke the TFS charter under Education Code section 47607.

A public hearing was held before the Board at which TFS was allowed to present evidence and arguments in its defense.  LACOE staff and legal counsel who assembled the case for revocation were present during this hearing to advise the Board, but did not formally present evidence.  The hearing was not conducted in an adversarial manner with cross-examination or the rules of evidence.  Over TFS’ objections to the fairness of the process, the Board voted to revoke.  After the State Board of Education denied TFS’ appeal, TFS appealed to the Superior Court which found a denial of due process and overturned the Board’s decision.  The Court of Appeal then reversed the trial court, finding the Board procedures to be constitutional, and the Supreme Court affirmed.

Decision of the Court

The Supreme Court clarified the general constitutional rules that govern the fairness of administrative procedures that affect property rights and made several specific decisions that relate to charter schools authorized by county offices of education and to TFS in particular.

  • If deprivation of a property right is at stake, due process generally requires notice of the reasons and evidence for the deprivation and an opportunity to present a rebuttal to an unbiased decision-maker.  A charter operator has a protected property right in the charter, but the Section 47607 revocation process provides adequate constitutional due process.
  • Bias by the decision-maker may be shown where the decision-maker has a financial interest in the outcome; however, TFS failed to show that its student enrollment affected the financial interests of LACOE or the County Board as a provider of particular educational services or a provider of educational services generally (such as special education or jail schools).
  • The dual role of LACOE and the Board as compliance monitor and decision-maker was a common administrative procedure that is not inherently unfair, absent specific evidence of actual bias on the part of the decision-makers.  No actual bias was shown in this case.
  • The dual role of the LACOE legal counsel as advisor to the LACOE staff and also to the Board during its deliberations did not offend due process.
  • There was no bias or unfairness inherent in the Board’s reliance on LACOE staff to gather and present the evidence for revocation. 

What This Means To You

First, this decision clarifies that Education Code section 47607 does not require an adversarial, trial-type procedure for charter revocation.  The decision states that revocation is subject to the procedures that are generally required when government agencies act in a regulatory manner to grant or deny permission to do something based on a staff recommendation.  In particular the decision affirms the following:

  • Charter authorizers do not need to hold an evidentiary hearing on a charter revocation under formal trial-type procedures in order to afford a charter school with adequate due process.  Authorizers should take care to comply with the revocation procedures provided in Education Code 47605 and the charter revocation regulations (See 5 Cal. Code Regs. Section 11968.5.2).
  • Authorizers may rely on the written record compiled by their staff in support of the recommendation for revocation.
  • Staff and legal counsel may appear at the hearing to explain their recommendations and to advise the Board as of its legal duties.
  • If any member of an authorizer’s governing board has a personal financial interest in the revocation decision, he or she should recuse him or herself from the entire decision-making process.