Facing criticism, Bullis Charter School dumps controversial 'hills' preference in enrollment lottery | News | Mountain View Online |


Facing criticism, Bullis Charter School dumps controversial 'hills' preference in enrollment lottery

Santa Clara County: Bullis-Purissima geographic priority put underserved students at a disadvantage

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An enrollment preference that would have given some families in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills higher priority when applying to enter Bullis Charter School has now been permanently removed.

The controversial preference gave priority to children residing within the so-called Bullis-Purissima school attendance boundaries, which straddle the two cities, in Bullis' highly competitive admissions lottery.

Los Altos School District officials, later joined by staff from the Santa Clara County Office of Education, said such a priority could give wealthier families an edge while stunting the charter school's enrollment of underserved students.

The preference was eliminated as of Dec. 26, and any mention of the geographic priority has been removed from enrollment information and materials, said Michelle Johnson, the county office's charter school director, at a public meeting last week. Reinstating the Bullis-Purissima preference in the future would require the "explicit approval" of the county Board of Education, Johnson said.

Bullis Charter School has a long history of giving priority admission to students residing in the attendance boundary of the former Bullis-Purissima Elementary School, which the Los Altos School District closed before reopening it years later as Gardner Bullis Elementary. The school district filed a suit to overturn the preference in 2008, claiming it was discriminatory, but the court ruled the school district had no jurisdiction to challenge it.

Bullis voluntarily phased out the priority through the 2019-20 school year as part of a five-year facilities agreement with the Los Altos School District, but district officials worried it would return after the deal officially expired in June last year. In a September letter to the county office of education, trustees argued reinstating the preference would give priority to the "wealthiest and least socioeconomically diverse area" within the district's boundaries while shutting out higher-needs students.

Responding to the school district's allegations, county Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan wrote a letter to the charter school stating there may be some truth to the district's argument.

"Based on information currently available to the county, at a minimum, the former Bullis-Purissima Elementary School attendance area appears to house a disproportionately low number of socio-economically disadvantaged students (and perhaps students with other protected characteristics)," Dewan wrote.

The county letter served as an ultimatum: Bullis would either have to drop what's known as "the hills preference" or provide a "thorough and complete explanation" as to why it wouldn't violate California Education Code requirements prohibiting discriminatory practices. One month later, Bullis Charter School board chair Joe Hurd replied that the preference is lawful and never resulted in discrimination, but that the school would nevertheless "suspend" the preference.

The action last month simply codifies that decision from October, according to Bullis spokesman Alan Simpson. The charter school's board of directors voted unanimously on the amended agreement with the county on Dec. 23.

LASD board president Bryan Johnson declined to comment, stating that the board hadn't reviewed the changes to the charter school's enrollment preferences at a public meeting.

Bullis Charter School's leadership had long valued the geographic priority as a "hard-won provision" of its charter, calling it an assurance that Los Altos Hills and parts of Los Altos would always have a public school, according to a June letter by charter school board member Francis La Poll. But the letter also made clear that the hills preference is seen as a bargaining chip, which can be reduced or eliminated in exchange for "tangible benefits" under facilities use agreements with the district.

"The BCS board understands that LASD may wish to extend the prior limitation to the preference to any future long-term agreement," La Poll wrote. "The BCS board expects that such extension will be part of the (facilities) negotiations between the two parties."

Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos district have had bitter, often litigious disputes during the last decade over whether the district had provided charter school students facilities that are "reasonably equivalent" to that of district students -- including classroom and outdoor space. Bullis has consistently asked for a single, consolidated school site centrally located in Los Altos, which representatives say would be ideal for serving students from all corners of the district.

The Los Altos School District's board of trustees pointed to the hills preference as just one part of a broader strategy by Bullis to allegedly discriminate against low-income students, English language learners and other underrepresented student groups. It claims students with disabilities who require significant resources, including those with autism, orthopedic impairments, intellectual disabilities and emotional disturbances, are discouraged from enrolling at Bullis and routed to the school district.

Charter school officials have denied wrongdoing, and point to similar demographic disparities between district-run schools. They also accuse district trustees of making inflammatory claims against the charter school amid negotiations over where to house the charter school over the next decade, which has been a divisive subject among district residents.

Despite the controversy and back-and-forth over geographic preferences, Bullis Charter School remains a popular choice among families in the area. The school received close to 400 applications for a little over 100 kindergarten spots for the upcoming school year, and held a lottery on Saturday, Jan. 18.

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30 people like this
Posted by Oh REEEEALLY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2020 at 2:35 pm

Funny, all I have read from the Bullis crowd over the years was how they were completely free from preferences.
I wonder what other "preferences" are yet to be discovered?
The truth always catches up with you...good lesson for the kids and their parents...and Trump for that mater.

19 people like this
Posted by Get-along
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2020 at 2:58 pm


If you tried googling, you would have seen exactly what the "preferences" are/were. There still are preferences, such as Siblings, LA school district, etc. BCS isn't hiding anything, they never did. Furthermore, there was also a time line to the ramp down of the Hills preference.

Instead of spreading hatred, why not take the high road?

14 people like this
Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2020 at 3:44 pm

Not only did the judge find LASD had no standing, but even if they did, the lottery preference is lawful by statute.

Case No: 108CV102873

This Court held a hearing to consider Petitioner Los Altos School District's Amended Writ of Mandate and Complaint for Injunctive Relief, on April 15, 2008. Donald Velez and John R. Yeh from Miller Brown & Dannis appeared on behalf of Petitioner, Richard M. Noack from Hopkins & Carley appeared on behalf of Respondents Santa Clara County Office of Education and Santa Clara County Board of Education ("County Board of Education"), and Arturo J. Gonzalez from Morrison & Foerster appeared on behalf of Real Party in Interest, Bullis Charter School ("Bullis").
Bullis has filed a request for judicial notice. The request for judicial notice is GRANTED.
Having considered carefully the oral arguments and written briefs of the parties, the Court holds that :
(!). Petitioner lacks standing, for the reasons set forth in the opposition briefs of the Respondents and the Real Party in Interest; and
(2). Even if the Petitioner were found to have standing, Respondent Santa Clara County Office of Education did not abuse its discretion, according to the statutory analysis argued in the opposition briefs of the Respondents and the Real Party in Interest, which the Court accepts.
The Court therefore DENIES the Amended Writ of Mandate and requested Declaratory

Dated: May 22, 2008

Judge Kevin Murphy
Santa Clara Superior Court

44 people like this
Posted by Bored M
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 23, 2020 at 4:28 pm

Do the defenders of Bullis' actions realize how ridiculous they sound when Bullis says they did nothing wrong, then concedes to a corrective action? I have no horse in this race, but retreating is usually a clear sign that you've made a mistake.

If Bullis is right, then keep on going! Perhaps the pressure of always being in the right is just too much for such a fine institution.

6 people like this
Posted by a community member
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2020 at 5:42 pm

Can someone clarify did Bullis indeed say they planning to restore the enrollment priority, or was it implied by LASD because of their expired agreement?

17 people like this
Posted by Politics
a resident of The Crossings
on Jan 23, 2020 at 6:57 pm

The preference should have been entirely gone long ago. Even if the fact of discrimination is in dispute, any loosely-plausible interpretations over the line are a signal that harm might be happening regardless of intent. Stepping away from that line is always the right thing.

Having said that, between LASD and BCS this was entirely a contest of political power. BCS wanted to use the preference as a bargaining chip, but that opened them up to political attacks and LASD's complaint to SCCOE. And LASD ultimately got leverage through SCCOE to make the preference go away.

The SCCOE, prodded by the LASD letter, put BCS into an untenable situation by requiring them to prove a negative, that the preference won't discriminate. We talk about burden of proof (e.g. innocent until proven guilty) for a reason, because it's a tool of political power. Anything that can be used for power, will be used for power.

8 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 23, 2020 at 9:08 pm

ah, exercise of power / that is granted to the SSCOE because the County is the Charting organization, not the local LEA, LASD.

SO good. BCS administration/board-majority got knocked down a few notches. Had it coming to them, in this particular case. And IMO the County Board / using the administration they control / SCCOE / is doing a much better job this decade - than the horrible job they did in charter school oversight (even 10-12 years ago).

County Trustee Grace Mah - good pushing on cleaning up charter school oversight (I've seen her work behind the scenes also)

12 people like this
Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2020 at 9:56 pm

I read the revised MOU. The County office said the change was required by changes to the state charter school rules as of 1 January 2020. That answers those that comment that the preference was wrong all along. Nope.

What's interesting is you have people saying how terrible Bullis is but then you have 400 K students applying this year when aside from those attending Bullis, 400 would be the ENTIRE K class from LASD. So something like 80% of the district wants to attend the charter.

The rub is that there is only 5% of the district kids who can be called disadvantaged. The county rationale is that the preference didn't include many at all out of the 5%. Seems it is EVERYONE ELSE who is not disadvantaged that wants to enter the Charter school. The district doesn't like Bullis because it is embarassed that the district schools are so UNPOPULAR. Really bizzare. You can't make assumptions because the whole district is an outlier case. Imagine if MVWSD only had 5% disadavantaged kids. That would be different.....

22 people like this
Posted by Get real
a resident of North Whisman
on Jan 23, 2020 at 10:38 pm

We all recognize that this preference was gross. The district was right to protest it, the charter was wrong to even threaten to resurrect it, LaPoll was unwise to champion it as a bargaining chip. Just gross. It’s gone now, which is great, let’s move on. Lessons learned, hopefully.

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