Deja sue: Delaware charter challenges state again

(file/NewsWorks)

(file/NewsWorks)

It’s a different court and a different argument, but Reach Academy for Girls in New Castle, Delaware is suing the state to stay open again.

Reach recently lost a suit in federal court alleging it would be discriminatory for the state to shut down Delaware’s only all-girls charter school while an all-boys counterpart remained open.

This latest suit, filed Tuesday in the New Castle County Court of Chancery, seeks a similar outcome, but on far different legal grounds.

Past performance v. future plans

This time, Reach is saying the state Department of Education violated charter law by failing to consider the school’s future plans when it decided not to renew the school’s charter in December. Reach’s lawyers said the state only considered past performance.

Reach said the state ignored a provision that “expressly provides that a charter shall be permitted to present evidence of its plans for future improvements.”

Though the bulk of Reach’s argument in federal court rested on claims of discrimination, the school did float the theory that state officials failed to consider proper evidence when making their decision. The presiding Judge Leonard Stark, however, was not swayed by the argument.

“Plaintiffs have identified no basis in the record from which I could find either (i) that the evidence of future plans they submitted was not before the Secretary when he made his decision about Reach, or (ii) that the Secretary failed to consider all of the record evidence when he made his recision about Reach,” Stark wrote in his opinion.

How the argument will be received in Chancery Court remains to be seen. 

A history of conflict

Tuesday’s suit represented the latest, and perhaps, the last volley in a legal tussle that dates back years. Reach originally sued the state in 2011 in the New Castle County Court of Chancery after the DOE’s Charter School Accountability Committee recommended the state revoke Reach’s charter.

Lillian Lowery, then the state’s Secretary of Education, opted instead to give the school a second chance, and the state board of education agreed.

School and state clashed again in 2013, when current Secretary of Education Mark Murphy decided not to renew the school’s charter. Reach sued in federal court and won a one-year injunction, in part because Delaware law prohibited the opening of another all-girls charter school to replace Reach.

Delaware amended that provision in 2014, and Reach’s second federal lawsuit fell flat earlier this month.

Back to the beginning

The school now returns to the New Castle County Court of Chancery, where its long legal saga began. The current suit appears to center on comments made by the Charter School Accountability Committee during its review of Reach’s charter application.

In the committee’s final report on Reach’s renewal, for instance, chairperson David Blowman seemed to suggest that the state would not consider future performance in its deliberations. Minutes included in the report’s conclusion section stated Blowman “noted that the role of the CSAC is not really to predict what will happen next year or at the end of this school year, but to base its decisions on performance to date.”

Reach’s lawyers argued that such a statement contradicts state law, and proves the DOE did not follow proper procedure when evaluating the school. They pointed specifically to a clause in the state’s charter law that said charter schools should have an opportunity to “describe improvements undertaken or planned for the school … and detail the school’s plans for the next charter term.”

During a recent argument in federal court, state attorneys said the DOE gave Reach an opportunity to present future plans.

The New Castle County Court of Chancery recently heard another legal challenge from a closing charter school. In that case, the court ruled that the state could continue with its plans to shutter the Maurice J. Moyer Academic Institute at the end of the school year.

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