California attorney general issues guidance on school closures

California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a statewide guidance on April 11 related to the legal requirements and best practices for school closures, “Guidance on Laws Governing School Closures and Best Practices for Implementation in California. The guidance focuses on Assembly Bill 1912, which became law in September 2022 and created a required process and equity-impact analysis for schools in financial distress to use when considering school closures, consolidations and mergers. The guidance emphasizes that the AB 1912 requirements may only be required for school districts in “financial distress,” but the requirements are nonetheless the best practices for all school closures that may take place. In addition to AB 1912, the guidance details other anti-discriminatory legal mandates that schools must consider when evaluating schools for closures.

The 18-page guidance is divided into four sections. The first section summarizes the legal requirements for financially distressed districts and says that those requirements are the best practices for all districts, regardless of financial status. The requirements include a community engagement process to create metrics used in an equity-impact analysis. If school closures are deemed appropriate, the equity-impact analysis is followed by a recommendation for closures at a regularly scheduled local educational agency board meeting where community members can provide feedback that must be considered.

If a final decision is made to close schools, that recommendation must also be delivered at a regularly scheduled meeting. No action can take place until the board has adopted a resolution concluding that the community engagement process was completed. This section emphasizes that districts “should consider approaching the closure process as a racial equity effort” and that conversations about this difficult topic can be facilitated “through public meetings of a district advisory committee formed for the purpose of a school closure or redesign process.”

Section II describes the legal requirements and best practices for developing the equity metrics to be used in the equity-impact analysis. AB 1912 requires districts to include nine specific metrics in their analysis but allows for more to be added. It also requires community input in the creation of the metrics. The section goes on to describe specific considerations for each of AB 1912’s nine required metrics and lists the other legal mandates that districts must incorporate into a closure analysis.

The third section details districts’ legal obligations and best practices during the process of deciding and presenting a closure and transition plan recommendation. As mentioned, AB 1912 requires a public presentation at a regularly scheduled board meeting of the district’s decision that must include “the equity impact analysis for each closure, the factors used to identify the closure list, a plan for use of the closed facilities, the criteria and process for reassigning students to other school sites, and options and a timeline for the transition, including improving safe routes to schools and home-to school transportation needs.” In addition, the other legal mandates require that a school closure “does not result in discriminatory impact on protected student groups.”

Finally, Section IV discusses the requirements and best practices for the approval and announcement of a closure and transition plan. Once a district has completed the metric and presentation requirements described, if appropriate, it may present its final recommendation for closure, including a review of how public input was included, before adopting a resolution stating the community engagement process is complete. The guidance concludes by encouraging districts to create community advisory groups and to work with experts to create a successful equity-impact process that has a goal of “maximizing equal opportunity and the quality of education [the district] provides to all of its students.”