A Superior Court judge ruling Thursday will delay a plan to give some Seattle Public Schools the ability to waive certain district policies to create need programs for the students.

Share story

A ruling in Superior Court on Thursday delays a Seattle School District plan to allow approved schools to innovate by being exempted from some district and union policies.

Judge John Erlick said the Seattle School Board cannot pass on its authority to waive district policies to a committee as it outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) early this year.

A split board voted in February to support the MOU, which explained how schools could apply to become a “creative approach” program with more flexibility to address the needs of their students. Ideas discussed include varied class-period lengths, longer school days and curriculum focused on experiential learning or language immersion.

The agreement gave a to-be-formed school-district committee and the superintendent the authority to approve applications from schools to waive individual policies — without approval by the school board or a place for public comment in the decision-making process.

Thursday’s court decision supported district watchdogs who filed a lawsuit arguing that state law gives only the board authority to waive policies, not staff committees.

“There’s been a big push to weaken school-board authority,” said Jack Whelan, one of five people who filed the case and a recent candidate for the board.

Emails between board members in late January show that some who ultimately voted in favor of the memorandum expressed concerns days before the decision in early February. Board President Michael DeBell said after the suit was filed in March that the oversight role would be met through an annual review of the Creative Approach program.

Board member Sharon Peaslee wrote an amendment that would have given the board more direct oversight, but it failed.

She and Betty Patu voted against the MOU while DeBell, Sherry Carr, Harium Martin-Morris, Marty McLaren and Kay Smith-Blum voted for it.

Peaslee said she thinks that other concerned board members ultimately voted in favor of the agreement because they were under pressure to start the program as soon as possible.

The board hoped school applications would be approved by November and the first programs start in fall 2013. That timeline could be more difficult to reach depending on what the board does next. It has 30 days to appeal the decision, or it can amend the MOU. That might require the board to call a special meeting.

Peaslee was happy with the judge’s ruling and also hopes to amend the MOU to address other concerns, including adding a clear role for parents in the decision-making process.

It’s unclear what the board will do next, but McLaren said district staff had already been thinking about the possibilities before the ruling. She and Peaslee both said they hope the board can move quickly to keep the program on schedule for a 2013 launch.

“We’re all very much in favor of the Creative Approach Schools initiative and we all want it to move forward without unnecessary delay,” Peaslee said.

Jayme Fraser: 206-464-2201 or jfraser@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @jaymekfraser