City Attorney Dennis Herrera sues to block closure of City College

Cindy Chew/S.F. Examiner file photoCity Attorney Dennis Herrera tries to stop City College from closing down.

Cindy Chew/S.F. Examiner file photoCity Attorney Dennis Herrera tries to stop City College from closing down.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed dual legal challenges Thursday designed to block the closure of City College of San Francisco while blaming state education officials for failing to properly oversee the school.

In a lawsuit, Herrera accused the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of retaliating against CCSF’s stance that community colleges should remain open and accessible to all students instead of adopting an approach encouraging students to complete degrees.

“There are very good reasons why judges should not be advocates and why advocates should not be judges,” Herrera said of the commission.

Commission officials said in a statement that they were “surprised” to hear of the legal actions and called the accusations “without merit and an attempt to politicize and interfere with the ongoing accreditation review process.”

Last month, the commission notified CCSF that its accreditation will be terminated in July unless a review and appeal is successful. The notice came roughly one year after the commission issued its most severe sanction against the college over governance and finance issues. A petition for review was filed Monday, but documents will not be made public until a ruling has been made.

Herrera’s second challenge took the form of an administrative action against the board of governors of the California Community Colleges system for its failure to oversee the commission. According to the complaint, the board abdicated its own responsibility to the commission with little oversight and no public input.

The commission is a private agency that has the final say over whether West Coast colleges can be accredited and thus remain open.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education said the commission itself is out of compliance with four federal standards and could lose its recognition as an accrediting agency. Herrera said the federal complaints complement his legal filings.

“There’s no doubt that we could still have an accreditation model as it does exist around country, but also mandate that the board of governors lives up to its responsibility,” Herrera said.

The board has 45 days to respond to Herrera’s complaint.

The State Chancellor’s Office emphasized Thursday that CCSF should not become a battleground in the fight around accreditation.

“The statewide Chancellor’s Office is focused on supporting City College of San Francisco as it moves forward to becoming a more sustainable institution of higher learning,” Chancellor’s Office spokesman Paul Feist said. “Regardless of one’s views about the ACCJC, by its own admission City College did not meet the standards that all 112 community colleges in California have agreed to meet.”

Although both Herrera’s challenges affect CCSF’s future, the college is not part of the legal battle, which does not represent the school’s official position.

“We are continuing to focus on meeting the standards,” CCSF spokeswoman Jennifer Aries said. “The standards remain the standards and we have to focus on meeting those so we can keep the doors open.”

Herrera, too, encouraged CCSF officials to continue making progress on the changes that would keep them open.

“Nothing about the actions I filed today should distract or delay City College of San Francisco from doing everything in its power to solve the problems threatening its survival,” Herrera continued.

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