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I-Lead Charter School-Reading v. Reading School District

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 20, 2017



          SCHMEHL, J.


         Before the Court is the motion to dismiss of Defendants, Reading School District, Board of School Directors of Reading School District, Robin Costenbader-Jacobson, Abraham Cepeda, Esq., Bernardo Carbajal, and Rebecca Acosta (hereinafter “Defendants”) (Docket No. 14). Plaintiffs, I-Lead Charter School, nine parents suing on their own behalf and on behalf of their children who attend I-Lead, and Will Cinfici and Karen McCree, former members of the Reading School Board (hereinafter “Plaintiffs”) have filed an opposition to the motion, and Defendants have filed a reply.

         Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint asserts First Amendment claims, due process claims and Sunshine Act claims all arising out of the School Board's vote to revoke I-Lead's charter under the Pennsylvania Charter School Law. Having read the parties' briefing, and after oral argument, for the reasons that follow, I find that Plaintiffs cannot be successful on their claims against Defendants. Therefore, I will grant the motion to dismiss.


         I-Lead Charter School (hereinafter “I-Lead”) is located in Reading, Pennsylvania, and was granted a charter by the Reading School District in 2011. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 5.) The charter was renewed in 2013, and in 2015, the school board began the process to revoke I-Lead's charter. (Id., ¶¶ 2, 72.)

         In addition to I-Lead, Plaintiffs include nine parents who are suing on their own behalf and on behalf of their children. Their children are enrolled in I-Lead and these parents want their children to continue to be educated at the school. (Id., ¶¶ 6-14.) Plaintiffs also include two Reading residents who are former Directors on the Reading School District School Board. (Id., ¶ 15.)

         Defendants are the Reading School District, the Reading School District School Board, and current School Board Directors Robin Costenbader-Jacobson, Abraham Cepeda and Bernardo Carabajal, who are sued both individually and in their official capacities. (Id., ¶¶ 16-18.) Rebecca Acosta, the final defendant, is sued individually “and in her capacity as a former Director on the Board.” (Id., ¶ 19.)

         A reading of the Amended Complaint shows that I-Lead's problems seemed to begin in March of 2014, when the School Board reviewed a letter from I-Lead's landlord that was derogatory towards I-Lead (Id., ¶¶ 29-30, 32.) Plaintiffs allege that a minority of Board members “seized on [the] allegations [in this letter] as a possible ground to sway public opinion against I-Lead and seek its closure…” (Id., ¶ 40.) The Board held a secret meeting “between March 7, 2014 and June 1, 2014” where they retained the services of counsel to investigate the allegations contained in the letter. (Id., ¶ 41.) Plaintiffs allege that other meetings were held in secret and with counsel to make decisions regarding strategies to close I-Lead. (Id., ¶ 43.)

         Plaintiffs allege that the Board was counseled to challenge the zoning administrator's approval of the use of the building that the school was housed in to “gain a tactical advantage against” I-Lead, which the Board did and said challenge was eventually rejected. (Id., ¶¶ 47, 48.) In 2015, then Board Director Rebecca Acosta told Angel Figueroa, an executive at I-Lead, that she would oppose contesting the tax exemption for the building that I-Lead was located in if he publically supported her candidacy for magisterial district judge in the May 2015 primary election, and that she “spurred the Board's attack” when he refused. (Id., ¶¶ 51, 53.)

         On June 5, 2015, I-Lead received a letter from counsel for the School Board that threatened revocation proceedings against I-Lead and demanded that the school agreed to several charter terms, which were allegedly “designed to be implemented for the sole purpose of ensuring the termination of I-Lead's charter.” (Id., ¶ 59.) I-Lead eventually told the Board that it was “prepared, albeit under duress, to sign the charter agreement as proposed, ” and the School District, after meeting in secret in violation of the Sunshine Law, withdrew its offer of charter amendment and instead instituted revocation proceedings against I-Lead. (Id., ¶¶ 59-62.)

         On September 21, 2015, in order to “resolve the conflicts” that it had with the School District, I-Lead filed a Request for Amendment to Charter with the District. (Id., ¶ 67.) The Board then met in secret in violation of the Sunshine Act, deliberated and decided to ignore the request for charter amendment. (Id., ¶ 68.) Thereafter, on September 23, 2015, at a public meeting, the Board approved a resolution that initiated revocation proceedings against I-Lead, and appointed Jeffrey D. Litts, Esquire, to serve as a hearing officer for the revocation proceedings. (Id., ¶¶ 72, 76.) Mr. Litts presided over public hearings on the revocation and received evidence to prepare findings of fact and conclusions of law. (Id., ¶ 80.) Mr. Litts and the Board then conducted secret meetings in violation of the Sunshine Act to shape Litts' findings and conclusions so as to effect a revocation of I-Lead's charter. (Id.) In October of 2015, the school district rejected I-Lead's offer to mediate their dispute. (Id., ¶¶ 83, 85.)


         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim satisfies the plausibility standard when the facts alleged “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the ...

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