Since the Menlo Park City School District board was presented with a petition to authorize a Mandarin immersion charter school in the district six weeks ago, board members have participating in their own cram school course on charter school law.
District staff, teachers and parents have also been immersing themselves in the complex regulations that govern charter schools in California.
While the state's laws governing public education, known as the "ed code," are notoriously labyrinthine, charter school regulations may be even more so.
The district is working with an attorney specializing in charter school law, John Yeh, from the Mountain View offices of Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP.
On Monday night, Oct. 27, Mr. Yeh spent several hours briefing the board and an audience of about 25 people, through the process and criteria the board must use to guide its decision on the charter.
The board is scheduled to make its final vote on authorizing the charter on Wednesday, Nov. 12. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Encinal School Multi-Use Building at 195 Encinal Ave. in Atherton.
Mr. Yeh told the board that the law states: "The governing board of the school district shall grant a charter ... if it is satisfied that granting the charter is consistent with sound educational practice."
To deny the charter, the board must, he told them, use one or more of the following reasons:
● Find it proposes an "unsound educational program."
● Find the petitioners are "demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program."
● Find that the there are not the required number of signatures on the petition.
● Find the charter does not contain "reasonably comprehensive descriptions" in 16 required areas.
Mr. Yeh said member of the district's leadership team are examining the 218-page charter petition, its 118 pages of appendices and its signatures to see how they line up with charter school law requirements. A report on the results of that scrutiny should be available to the board and the public sometime during the week before the Nov. 12 vote, he said.
If the charter is not approved by the district, the backers can appeal to the county school board, and if the county board turns it down, to the state board of education.
Supporters of the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter School asked the district on Sept. 12 to authorize a 5-year charter for a kindergarten to eighth-grade school. The school would start next school year with 100 students in two classes of kindergarteners and two classes of first-graders with plans to expand by one grade each year until eventually including kindergarten through eighth grades and 450 students.
A charter school is a public school that cannot charge tuition to its students, but it can be run by a nonprofit corporation, and does not have to follow many of the laws governing other public schools.
In a language-immersion program, many of the classes are taught in the target language, with more classes taught in English as the students move through the grades. The Menlo Park district now has a popular Spanish immersion program.