School District Prohibited from Challenging Charter School Reauthorization

By February 10, 2016 Attorneys, Jen Deutch, News No Comments

In a recent case, the appellate court held that a school district does not have the authority to sue the Illinois State Charter School Commission for its decision to grant, deny, or renew a charter if the district was not the original authorizer of the charter.

The facts in Board of Education of Woodland Community Consolidated School District 50 v. Illinois State Charter School Commission are as follows: Prairie Crossing Charter School first submitted its proposal for a charter to Woodland Community Consolidated School District 50, and Fremont School District 79.  Both districts rejected Prairie Crossing’s charter, but the Illinois State Board of Education reversed the districts’ decision and authorized the charter. In 2004 and 2011, ISBE renewed authorization of the charter over Woodland’s objection.

In 2013, Prairie Crossing Charter School sought to renew its charter and submitted a renewal application to the Charter School Commission (ISBE’s authority over charters was transferred to the Commission). In response to Prairie Crossing’s application, Woodland submitted a letter and supporting materials to the Commission requesting that it deny the renewal application.  The Commission conducted its own investigation and, despite Woodland’s letter, it renewed the charter.

The Woodland school district subsequently filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County against the Commission. The court determined that it had jurisdiction (the ability to hear to case), and that Woodland had standing (the ability to sue the Commission in court). However, the court of appeals reversed the circuit court’s findings. Specifically, the appellate court noted that the circuit court had no jurisdiction because the Administrative Review Law does not apply to Commission decisions to renew charters. Further, Woodland was not a party of record in the Commission’s proceeding and therefore it waived any ability to sue Commission in court.

The court further stated that Woodland, under the Charter Schools Law, has other options to address any violations by Prairie Crossing. In particular, the regulations allow anyone to file a complaint with the State Superintendent and the complainant will receive a written decision addressing the complaint.

Accordingly, the decision of the Charter School Commission to reauthorize the Prairie Crossing Charter was upheld.

Charter School issues continue to grow in complexity for both the charter schools and school districts.   Contact Jennifer Deutch with your charter school legal inquiries.

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