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SLV CARE Lawsuit Update - 2/6/04

By Laura Dolson

From time to time I get requests as to the status of the lawsuit which the group calling itself SLV CARE ("San Lorenzo Valley Community Advocates for Responsible Education") is bringing against the SLV School District. Last week, there was a hearing in Santa Cruz County Court, wherein SLV CARE sought a preliminary injunction. I thought it would be a good opportunity to write an update on how the legal action is progressing. The basic information about the suit can be found in my original article.

What is a preliminary injunction.? According to a legal dictionary, it is "a court order made in the early stages of a lawsuit or petition which prohibits the parties from doing an act which is in dispute, thereby maintaining the status quo until there is a final judgment after trial". In other words, it's trying to get the defendant to stop doing something because of irreparable harm that will be caused.

What was this injunction hoping to accomplish? The demands of the injunction (filed on 12/17/03) were essentially the same as the demands of the lawsuit. The main ones were the following:.

1) Perform a complete study of the environmental impact of the school closures.

2) Declare the District's school closure decision "null and void", and appoint a special committee (called a "7-11 Committee") to reopen the closure process. SLV CARE has maintained that Education Code dictates that this type of committee be used for school closure.

3) Stop all activity associated with bond expenditures - cease construction at the high school, and stop the plans for the renovation of the Junior High and elementary schools

I was present at the hearing and have read much of the information which was presented to the court. There is a lot of it - in fact, the judge stated that it was "probably the most complete briefing I've seen on an issue in many years". SLV CARE submitted 14 written declarations on different subjects (examples: traffic in the BCE area, the "rezoning" of the Redwood school building, experiences with the school closure committee) by area residents, many of them lengthy with many attachments. All but two of the people making declarations are parents of children who were at Redwood Elementary School last year. It came to several hundred pages of material.

Further, the judge said he had spent "many hours" reviewing the case, and preparing a written statement of his decision. The statement gave the legal reasoning and precedents for his decisions, as well as the decisions themselves:

1) The District had investigated the need for an environmental impact study and determined that the school closure decision did not require one under law. The judge agreed. The main reason is that the change requires "no significant, real physical changes to the receptor school", that the combined current school enrollment at BCE is only 70% of the enrollment in 1990-1991, and that the alleged environmental problems cited by SLV CARE, such as potential seismic activity, would not be caused by the closure and were already "faced by the existing school population".

2) SLV CARE stated that the process that the SLV District went through to close Quail Hollow and Redwood Elementary Schools was in violation of the Education Code. The judge very clearly stated that the code cited by SLV CARE had nothing whatever to do with school closures (a 7-11 committee is not required).

3) Regarding the bond expenditures, the judge did not find reason for an injunction., and denied the motion. He basically said it isn't the place of a preliminary hearing to go through expenditures line by line and figure out which ones might be maintenance rather than acquisition or improvement of property. He said that if it is later found at a trial that some of the bond money was misspent, the District would have to reimburse the bond fund.

All motions brought before the court were denied. In his concluding remarks, Judge Joseph added that, "With respect to school closure, the court is not persuaded that the Plaintiff has shown a reasonable likelihood to prevail on the issue, justifying the extraordinary relief sought".

Laura's Comments - Although SLV CARE members have stated that they are determined to take this to trial, the judge's careful interpretation of the law was quite clear. It seems to me and others, including the SLV Teachers' Association, that further action only wastes money on both sides - money that could be used to improve the education of our children in these difficult financial times.

Further, we only have to pick up a paper or turn on the news these days to learn about other California school districts who are having the same problems the SLV District is. Many of them are having to close schools, and I haven't yet heard of a district that has engaged in a process as open and above board, and allowing the volume of public input, that the SLV District did last year (let alone constitute a "7-11 Committee").

I think we should also take note that our administration recently received a letter from the County Board of Education commending them on the state of our financial affairs. We should be very proud of the work of the staff, board, parents, and community. If our District had not been forward-thinking enough to close schools last year, we would be likely be in far worse shape, and having to close them this year anyway.