Lawsuit aims to save John Swett

Legal effort is latest round in continuing community fight

With only weeks to go before the start of the new school year, advocates for one school that was shuttered in June by San Francisco's school board are still fighting to keep the elementary campus open — and this round, they're hitting the district hard with a lawsuit.

The students from John Swett, located on the edge of Hayes Valley, are being merged with the students at another nearby campus, John Muir Elementary School, which is underenrolled. It's one of 14 schools that San Francisco's school board voted in January to close, merge or relocate, due to declining enrollment and less-than-expected revenues from the state.

Since January, John Swett supporters — including parents, community advocates and District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi — have continued to protest the impending closure of the school. In April, a majority of the board remained steadfast in their decision, refusing an offer of $600,000 in city funds, coordinated by Mirkarimi, to keep the school open for at least one more year.

On Friday, lawyers representing a group called “San Francisco Parents for a Safe School Environment,” held a press conference to announce that they had filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco Unified School District and the Board of Education, seeking to invalidate all of the January closureand merger decisions based on the belief that the district had ignored an obligation to review the impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

Patrick Goggin, one of the attorneys for the petitioners, said CEQA's scope is not limited to only a project's impacts on the natural environment, but also considers factors such as traffic and safety.

David Campos, general counsel for the San Francisco Unified School District, said he couldn't comment extensively on the matter because he was still in the process of reviewing the lawsuit. He did note that CEQA provides an exemption for school closures.

There are exceptions to the school closure exemption, note the petitioners' lawyers in the court document filed, “when there is a significant effect on the environment.” John Swett students would have an increased exposure “to dangerous traffic conditions and the predatory criminal element along their route to John Muir,” the lawyers wrote.

Parents at other schools have not been polled to see if they want their school closure or merger decision overruled, said Goggin, who said the legal effort was mostly focused on the John Swett merger.

Board of Education President Norman Yee said it was “very unlikely” that the school board would reverse its decision to move the John Swett students to another site, adding that “with only a month to go, the only way to stop us at this point would be legal action.”

beslinger@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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