Three days before the start of the Ventura County Christian School school year on August 22, school officials received a message from their owners in the Ventura Unified School District: the century-old property that the school had lived there for two decades had been deemed unsafe.
Their lease was terminated. The school postponed the start of classes for a week.
But the school’s principal, Perry Geue, plans to open classes on Monday in defiance of district board members’ decision, saying the district misinterpreted the findings of an inspector’s report.
“School has started and we have nowhere to go,” Geue said in an interview on Saturday, then followed up in an email: “We just don’t agree that the hall class is uncertain. We believe other intentions are at play.”
The showdown ends months of lease negotiations between the public school district and the private school, first over the school’s rental rate, then over a lease clause that the school would accept not to discriminate in hiring based on religion.
“We could potentially be forced to hire teachers who don’t adhere to a Christian worldview,” Geue said.
Ron Bamieh, an attorney for the school, said in a press release that the clause was a “clear act of prejudice against the Christian school for practicing its faith in the education of its students.”
School board president Sabrena Rodriguez said language, which also covered race, gender, sexual orientation and a host of other categories, was an integral part of district leases.
“The results were that it would not provide security in the event of a natural disaster,” Rodriguez said. “The truth is that as a mother and someone who cares deeply for the children, I couldn’t sleep at night knowing the building wasn’t safe enough.”
Rodriguez said the Ventura County Schools Self-Funding Authority, a multidistrict cooperative that provides property insurance for the district, told officials the building would not be covered in the event of a disaster, including an earthquake, in reason for the findings of the report.
Officials informed the school on August 19 that its lease would be terminated.
But the school and its attorneys say the district misinterpreted the report, citing findings from its own report commissioned by Thousand Oaks engineering firm Vinci & Associates.
“Although further study of the building would be prudent, there is nothing on site or in the recommendations of the (19six report) to justify leaving the facility at this time,” the Vinci report said. “Items noted as recommendations can be easily addressed and rectified, or require further study and review.”
Bamieh, the school’s attorney, said the district could not terminate the lease under the terms of the agreement.
“The school opens on Monday. If they think they have a good case, let’s take it to court, argue it.” he said.
Rodriguez, the board chairman, said that in drafting the school’s lease for the previous school year, the board included a clause that allowed the district to terminate the lease. The clause was added after several council members expressed concern that the property was not certified for use under state law. strict standards for public schools.
Rodriguez said she recognizes the school’s passion.
“They put their blood, sweat and tears into the school for 30 years. I understand that dedication and that sense of loss,” she said. “But as a public agency, the school district has very clear direction for the decisions it has to make.”
Rodriguez said she was unsure of the district’s response when the school reopens for classes Monday morning.
“The lease is no longer in effect,” she said.
Bamieh insisted the school would prevail and said the district had already validated the new lease by collecting a deposit and two rents from the school under the $12,000 per month rent rate.
He said he would be on campus Monday morning with school officials for the start of classes and a press conference.
“They should take responsibility for their mistakes, sit down with VCCS and say ‘Let’s fix this,'” he said.
Isaiah Murtaugh covers education for the Ventura County Star in partnership with Report for America. Contact him at [email protected] or 805-437-0236 and follow him on Twitter @isaiahmurtaugh and @vcsschools. You can support this work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America.