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Community Service Leadership v. Pittsburgh School District

January 5, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mary Hannah Leavitt, Judge

Argued: November 15, 2011



The Community Service Leadership Development Charter School (Charter School) petitions for review of an adjudication of the State Charter School Appeal Board (Board) denying its charter school application. Charter School argues that the Board did not "specifically articulate" its reasons for denying the application, as is required by statute. Specifically, Charter School argues that the Board‟s denial for the reason that Charter School failed to integrate gender-based instruction, community service and leadership development into the curriculum was not sufficiently specific. Agreeing with Charter School, we vacate and remand.


On November 17, 2008, Charter School submitted an application to the Pittsburgh School District to establish a school for grades kindergarten through eight where classrooms would be segregated by gender. The District denied the application. On November 16, 2009, Charter School submitted a revised application, consisting of the original application and supplemental materials that addressed the District‟s concerns with the first application. On December 7, 2009, the District conducted a public hearing on the application at which members of the community testified in favor of the application.

On December 9, 2009, the District‟s "review team" presented its evaluation of Charter School‟s application to the District. Supplemental Reproduced Record*fn2 at 273b-315b (S.R.R. __).*fn3 The review team stated that the second application did not have "[t]he community service and leadership development theme . integrated into the curriculum." S.R.R. 280b. Further, Charter School did not fully explain its gender-based instruction or how the effectiveness of such instruction would be evaluated. The review team held that the application did not address "grading or retention procedures" and it lacked a plan for after-school programs. Id.*fn4 The review team found inadequacies in the staffing for special education, and it questioned the fees to be charged by the management company, Imagine Schools, Inc. (Imagine), which intended to charge a 12% administration fee on gross revenue; in five years, the fee would exceed $3.7 million. Imagine would be permitted to place its own employees and representatives on Charter School‟s board of directors, which the review team believed to be unethical and to violate the Charter School Law, 24 P.S. §§17-1701-A -- 17-1751-A.*fn5 For these reasons, the review team recommended that Charter School‟s second application be disapproved.

On December 15, 2009, the District denied Charter School‟s second application. The District found the application to be deficient because it failed to show that Charter School was able to provide comprehensive learning experiences; did not integrate gender-based instruction, community service and leadership development into the curriculum; lacked sustainable community support; lacked a professional development plan; failed to adequately address special education needs; and suffered both fiscal and operational shortfalls. S.R.R. 316b-319b. Charter School appealed to the Board, which held a hearing. Each side was given fifteen minutes to present its case. Both parties attempted to present additional documentary evidence, but their requests were denied by the Board.

Charter School first presented Sarah Martin, chairperson of its board. Martin briefly testified that she had researched gender-based, community service and leadership schools and determined that such schools have better standardized test results and produce students more likely to be leaders in their community. She presented her study to an interested group of parents in the Pittsburgh area and, later, to Imagine.

Charter School then offered Professor Richard Gutkind. He explained that Charter School planned a challenging and rigorous curriculum, with a focus on leadership and character development built on an ethical curriculum. He envisioned the students forming their own government and court system. He explained that character education and leadership activities would be developed by the physical education program, which would include activities such as rock climbing and camping. The gender-based classrooms would use proven pedagogical techniques. For example, boys would be offered a greater array of reading material, and lessons would be presented visually. Girls would be encouraged to work in groups, rather than competitively; a variety of teaching approaches would be used to teach girls math.

The District did not present any witnesses. Instead, its counsel argued that the application presented by the Charter School was incomplete in every area and included only cursory attention to community service, leadership and gender-based themes. The District argued that the application was devoid of details on gender-based instruction practices, questioning whether the planned instruction was based on stereotypes or research. The District challenged Imagine‟s business practices. Finally, the District asserted that the proposed location of the Charter School was neither suitable nor available.

The Board affirmed the District‟s denial of Charter School‟s application.

Board Adjudication

The Board‟s adjudication is ten pages long. At least half of the adjudication consists of a recital of the statutory requirements for an applicant seeking a charter and a procedural history of Charter School‟s application. It devotes two pages of discussion to explain why it disallowed the admission of additional evidence, and one and one-half pages of discussion of its reason for affirming the District‟s decision. Its critical findings are brief.

The critical findings of fact are as follows:

17. The curriculum is deficient because it does not integrate community service and leadership ...

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