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August 27, 2015

Conrad O’Brien Achieves Victory for Charter School Client in Matter Challenging Enrollment Caps

On August 27, 2015, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth court ruled in favor of Conrad O’Brien client, Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School (Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School v. The School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission, 1474 CD 2014). This victory is the culmination of nearly five years of protracted litigation between the Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School (“RAPCS”) and the School District of Philadelphia and School Reform Commission (together the “District”).


The litigation arose out of demands made by the District on RAPCS in RAPCS’ proposed 2010 renewal charter. The crux of the litigation focused on the District’s contention that it could unilaterally-impose enrollment caps on any charter school within the School District of Philadelphia, pursuant to to Philadelphia’s designation as a “distressed” school district under 24 P.S. § 6-696(a). The District made this contention notwithstanding the Charter School Law’s express prohibition on unilaterally-imposed enrollment caps under 24 P.S. §17-1723-A(d) (“Act 61”). As part of the 2010 renewal charter, the District demanded a number of burdensome requirements from RAPCS that are already subject to state and federal law outside the scope of the Charter School Law, including requirements on insurance, assessment of student performance, annual reports, student admission lotteries, and special education. RAPCS argued that such requirements were invalid as they were not contemplated under the Charter School Law or relevant case law, and would burdensome for RAPCS.


The Commonwealth Court, agreeing with RAPCS, found that the District cannot use its status as a “distressed” school district to override its clear and unambiguous obligation to “fairly negotiate” enrollment caps with its charter schools, and cannot impose conditions that are unduly burdensome on charter schools. While the Court acknowledged the Philadelphia School District’s financial distress, the District must still uphold its legal obligations under the Charter School Law to charter schools within the Philadelphia School District.


Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School is represented by Matthew H. HaverstickPatricia A. Hennessy, Lauren R. Ascher, and Melissa M. Green of Conrad O’Brien.