A school district’s failure to act on a charter school’s request to amend its charter constitutes a denial of the amendment and is appealable to the Charter School Appeal Board, the Commonwealth Court held in Discovery Charter School v. School District of Philadelphia, __ A.3d __ (No. 673 C.D. 2014, filed March 10, 2015). In 2012, Discovery Charter School filed an application to renew its charter along with a request to amend the charter to increase its enrollment. The School District never acted on the amendment request. Discovery appealed to the Charter School Appeal Board, arguing that the School District’s refusal to act constituted a denial. The Board quashed the appeal, holding that it lacked jurisdiction because there was no final action denying the charter renewal or request for amendment.
The Commonwealth Court reversed in a unanimous opinion authored by Senior Judge Colins. The panel acknowledged a recent Commonwealth Court decision holding that the Board lacks jurisdiction to review a school district’s failure to act on a charter school’s renewal application. Inaction on a charter amendment request is different, the Court reasoned, because a charter school can continue to operate under its existing charter until the district acts on its renewal application. A charter school cannot operate under an amendment it seeks until the school district chooses to act. Further, the Charter School Law prescribes specific procedural requirements for non-renewal of a charter, but not for the denial of an amendment. Finally, the Court observed that, as a practical matter, a school district’s refusal to act on an amendment request in time for the school year for which the amendment is sought has the same effect as a denial. Absent a right to appeal such inaction to the Board, a school district could evade review by simply refusing to vote on amendments. For these reasons, the Court held that the School District’s inaction constituted a denial and the Board erred in dismissing Discovery’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
Photo by Sean MacEntee