A recent court ruling has re-ignited attention on Oxford Preparatory Academy charter school, pictured here before Allegiance STEAM Academy charter school took over the site in summer 2018.   

A fourth district state appeals court ruled July 11 that Oxford Preparatory Academy’s charter renewal petition will be re-examined in San Bernardino Superior Court under new guidelines. 

The new ruling calls for the case to go back to the lower court for reconsideration of Oxford’s 2016 Chino charter petition and entitles the charter school to recover its appeal costs. 

On Thursday, the Chino Valley school board authorized legal counsel to file a petition for a rehearing in the Court of Appeal and for review in the California Supreme Court. 

Irene Blair, Christina Gagnier and Joe Schaffer voted yes and James Na and Andrew Cruz were opposed.  

In a separate vote, the board unanimously agreed to pay Oxford’s attorney fees and costs per the settlement. 

The court decision comes two years after the K-8 charter school was shut down in Chino, affecting 1,213 students.

Jill Marks, executive director of Oxford’s campus in Mission Viejo said, “Oxford Preparatory Academy (OPA) is pleased with the Court of Appeal’s decision. Unfortunately, it will do very little to restore what was lost when it was forced to close the Chino Valley campus.”  

She added that because the case has not yet been settled, she is unable to comment on Oxford’s future plans. 

Oxford attorney Douglas Hedenkamp of Connor, Fletcher and Hedenkamp in Irvine, said the court will determine if the Chino Valley school board’s decision to deny the petition “was proper or not.”  

Mr. Hedenkamp said, “Our goal was reached, that the non-renewal of a charter school is reviewed by the courts in an independent manner, not in a more deferential manner.” 

He said this ruling will have implications for charter schools across the state. 

“Once the charter is issued, the charter organization has a vested interest and a right to operate that school,” he added.

Mr. Hedenkamp said when Judge David S. Cohn heard the case in in San Bernardino Superior Court in June 2017, he used a legislative instead of judicial standard. 

The basis for this distinction is that the court doesn’t get involved in legislative type decisions, according to the attorney.

The Chino Valley school district had cited unknown financial liabilities and governance issues along with other reasons when it denied Oxford’s charter renewal in March 2016.  

Judge Cohn, using the legislative standard, deferred to the school board’s decision to deny the charter renewal.

The recent appellate court ruling calls for a judicial standard that requires the lower court to review the charter on its own merits.     

Oxford had previously been unsuccessful in its appeals to the county and state education boards.  

Next steps 

Attorney Hedenkamp said a court decision becomes final after 30 days. The wait for trial court is usually 60 days, he added.

Oxford Prep currently operates two schools. The South Orange County campus in Mission Viejo is authorized by Capistrano school district. Its term expires in 2024.

The Saddleback Valley campus in Lake Forest is authorized by the Orange County Department of Education. Its term expires in 2021.

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