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Court hears charter cap case appeal

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 10/5/2017, 6 a.m.
Lawyers argued over a case with the potential to undo the results of last year’s heated battle over the cap ...
Attorney Melissa Allison of Anderson & Kreiger LLP, Matt Cregor of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, and Juan Cofield and Julia Hardy Cofield of the New England Regional Conference of the NAACP outside the courthouse. Allison and Cregor represent students seeking to keep the cap on charter schools, a cause that the New England Regional Conference of the NAACP supports. Banner photo

Lawyers argued in Suffolk County Courthouse this week over a case with the potential to undo the results of last year’s heated battle over the cap on charter schools.

Millions of dollars had poured into campaigns on both sides of the Question 2 ballot measure, with the lift-the-cap side bolstered further by hefty donations, totaling more than $15 million, from an organization deemed to have illegally kept secret its contributors. Ultimately, 62 percent of residents voted to keep the cap — but the ballot measure was not the only bid to lift the limits on Massachusetts’ charter schools.

Before the 2016 ballot measure came Doe v. Peyser, a court case centered around five Boston children who failed to receive placements at charter schools in 2015 and instead received placement in district public schools that the state ranks as Level 3 or Level 4. These complainants say that their schools are poor quality, that charter schools would provide better education and that the cap on charter schools restricts available seats to the point of denying them access to such schools.

The court dismissed the case last fall, weeks before the Question 2 vote. On Monday, attorneys representing the plaintiffs returned to court, arguing that the court had erred in its dismissal. They said that while state voters had rejected a charter cap lift, that vote’s result should not stand because it denies some children their constitutional right to equal protection and an adequate public education. Meanwhile, seven students who are of color, have disabilities and are English Language Learners, and who attend traditional public schools in Boston, intervened in the case to defend keeping the charter cap. These students argue that lifting the cap would damage the financial well-being of their schools for the sake of schools that do less to serve their demographics, and so would harm their own educations.

The defense attorneys assert as well that the plaintiffs make too big a logical leap when claiming that adjusting the charter cap is the clear and necessary solution to allegedly poor educational conditions in district public schools.

Robert Toone of the Attorney General’s Office spoke for defendants on Monday. Melissa Allison, of Anderson & Kreiger LLP, spoke on behalf of intervening students, accompanied by Matt Cregor of the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights and Economic Justice. Amicus briefs supporting the charter cap were submitted by the Massachusetts Teachers Association and jointly from the Boston Branch of the NAACP, Boston Education Justice Alliance and the New England Area Conference of the NAACP.

Representing the plaintiffs on Monday was Kevin Martin of Goodwin Proctor LLP. An amicus brief on behalf of these students was submitted jointly by Pioneer Institute, the Black Alliance for Educational Options and Cheryl Brown Henderson, whose father was the named plaintiff in the case Brown v. Board of Education.

Plaintiffs asked the court to reconsider the dismissed case and launch a discovery process, investigating the arguments’ merits further. While the case focuses on complaints of Boston children, its ruling would affect school districts statewide.