Anaheim school districts ask judge to shut down online charter school

Kyle Stokes/KPCC

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In a lawsuit filed on Friday, two Anaheim school districts asked an Orange County Superior Court judge to shut down Epic Charter School, an online school that opened in September and is educating 82 students, with plans to add more.

“It didn’t even meet minimal standards of education in terms of support for special ed students, English learners students, and across the board,” said Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Mike Matsuda.

His district, along with Anaheim’s elementary school district filed the lawsuit against the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE).

The legal action is the latest salvo in the ongoing conflict between charter school critics, who claim there is very little oversight of the independent public schools, and supporters of the schools, who believe groups that are denied charter petitions should have the option for an appeal in the form of an approval from another education agency.

OCDE is the target of the lawsuit because its elected board of education members approved Epic’s charter in March, after the Anaheim Elementary School District Board of Education had said no to the school's petition nearly a year before.

In a report to the Orange County Board of Education, department staff recommended the board deny Epic’s charter petition because the proposal’s education program was unsound, parent signatures required for the proposal were invalid and OCDE could open itself to liability for the gaps in the proposal.

Staff also told board members that Epic Charter School’s parent company is under investigation in Oklahoma for schools it runs in that state and was also investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2005 for improper use of public funds.

But school officials said the legal challenge was more about broader opposition to charter schools than it was the specific details of the school. 

“This lawsuit is a frivolous distraction that is more about politics than legality, and seems unnecessary for our school to have to endure,” said Epic Charter School Executive Director Paul MacGregor in an email.

“The process our school went through to obtain authorization was both rigorous and legal by any objective measure. Those who oppose school choice do not trust parents to determine the quality level of our school and instead attempt to play politics to limit options available to parents,” he said.

While it wouldn’t outright support Epic Charter School’s school or proposal to open the school, the California Charter School Association vigorously defended the school, and other petitioners' ability to seek approval from another educational agency after it had been denied once.

“The activities of the school district to take aggressive action like this, when they had the opportunity to be authorizer and to monitor compliance and oversight, is unfortunate,” said Miles Durfee, the managing regional director of the California Charter Schools Association.

Durfee also criticized the Anaheim high school district for advocating for a moratorium on new charter schools while state law does not include a cap on the number of charter schools approved in the state.

Matsuda replied that the effort called for a temporary moratorium while charter school oversight is strengthened.

Durfee said it’s now up to the county board to make sure Epic Charter School lives up to its promise to educate students and ensure that the school spends public funds lawfully.