In a major win for Opportunity Youth in California, an appeals court overturned a 2019 ruling that would have closed five public schools for teens who have previously struggled in traditional schools. Opportunity Youth is defined as people ages 16-24 who are not in school or have a job. The ruling affects more than 1,100 students – 65 percent of whom had already aged out of public school and would be left with few options to graduate high school.
In 2019, a San Diego Superior Court ruled that three Learn4Life high schools located within the boundaries of Grossmont Unified School District (GUSD) and two schools operating within the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) must close because of a discrepancy over geographical boundaries. Learn4Life schools have been operating in compliance with the California Charter Schools Act and providing a quality education for hundreds of students. The charters in question are authorized by neighboring districts in the county, and are sanctioned to locate and serve students where the need is greatest within the county. Learn4Life schools appealed the decision, and last week the ruling was overturned, ensuring the area’s most needy students can continue their path to graduation, and 96 teachers and staff will keep their jobs.
“We are so relieved that the court has sided with the students. This lawsuit by GUHSD and SDUSD did not put students first,” said Lindsay Reese, San Diego area superintendent of Learn4Life schools. “We take students who were not successful in their traditional school, especially those who are credit deficient, former dropouts and those with learning disabilities.”
Reese points out that, “It is important to note that these lawsuits were not questioning the quality of our education model even though hundreds of their students had dropped out or had aged out of traditional high school.”
According to Reese, Learn4Life schools can serve students up to 24 years old. “Every summer we have scores of 18-year-olds who didn’t make it to a diploma, meaning they are too old to return to a traditional high school. We help them catch up, graduate and in many cases go on to community college or other post-secondary education,” said Reese. “Without us, they have nowhere to go.”
The impact that dropouts have on communities is significant. Dropouts are ineligible for 90 percent of jobs1, commit 75 percent of crimes2, receive one-third of all food stamps3 and are six times more likely to go to jail4.
Of the 1,100 students attending those five schools:
· 853 are minority,
· 254 are very low income,
· 550 are 18 years or older,
· 209 have disabilities,
· 84 are pregnant and/or parenting and
· 69 are homeless or housing insecure.
Reese adds that 197 are English learners, including many Chaldean refugees. The local districts couldn’t serve this population of Iraqis who fled to San Diego County to avoid religious persecution. These Learn4Life schools hired Chaldean-speaking staff and since 2018, have educated hundreds of English-learner Chaldean students.
“We want to thank the justice panel for seeing this suit for what it was, which was never about the quality of education we provide to our students,” Reese added. “As a charter, Learn4Life schools operate with extensive oversight and must earn its right to exist every five years – something traditional schools don’t have to do.”
Read the appeals court ruling here.