SF City Attorney, Teachers Union Seek Injunction Protecting City College From Loss Of Accreditation

The city of San Francisco and a teacher’s union both asked a Superior Court judge today for a preliminary injunction blocking the revocation of accreditation of City College of San Francisco in July.

If granted, a preliminary injunction would be in effect until a full trial is held in San Francisco Superior Court on the two lawsuits challenging the decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

One lawsuit was filed in August by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera on behalf of the city.

The other was submitted in September by the California Federation of Teachers and its affiliate, American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, which represents nearly 1,500 faculty members at the college.

If not blocked, the termination of accreditation will occur on July 31, 2014.

A hearing before Judge Curtis Karnow is expected in late December.

The city asked for a hearing on Dec. 24, and a hearing on the union’s motion, as well as a bid by the commission for dismissal of the second lawsuit, has been scheduled for Dec. 26. Herrera spokesman Gabriel Zitrin said the two hearings may be combined on a single date.

Both filings argue that an injunction is needed to prevent devastating harm to students, the college, employees and the city because the college would lose federal and state funding.

“An injunction serves the public interest because education is a fundamental California constitutional right,” lawyers for the California Federation of Teachers wrote in their brief.

“As closure looms, revenue drops, the faculty is laid off, and the departments are dismantled,” the federation attorneys warned.

“Loss of accreditation is effectively a death sentence for an institution because it renders the institution ineligible for federal and state funds,” city lawyers wrote in their filing.

The college previously served more than 80,000 students, but enrollment has already declined significantly because of the threatened loss of accreditation, according to Herrera’s brief.

The Novato-based western regional branch of the commission announced its decision last July, citing alleged problems with financial accountability, institutional governance and compliance with accrediting standards for instructional programs and student support services.

The commission said in statements today it considers both lawsuits meritless and will fight the preliminary injunction bids.

“ACCJC will resist any efforts by any third party, including the city attorney of San Francisco, to interfere with its internal processes, including those processes that relate to the CCSF decision,” the commission said of Herrera’s motion.

After the teachers’ union filed its motion later in the day, the commission responded with a second statement saying, “This motion by the CFT does not align with the real efforts to assure CCSF’s future accreditation, but rather distracts from those efforts.”

The commission quoted Chair Sherrill Amador as saying, “The best way forward is for the institution, its staff and faculty, to join the college leaders in making needed changes to improve the quality and secure the future accreditation of the college.”

The city’s lawsuit claims the revocation was improperly based on a philosophical dispute over the college’s goal of emphasizing “open access” to the community—including offering vocational, English-language and remedial education—and not just completion of degrees.

Both lawsuits allege the regional commission’s procedures were biased and violated the state’s unfair business practices law in several ways, including failing to control conflicts of interest.

They cite commission President Barbara Beno’s appointment of her husband to a 2012 evaluation team and a commission vice president to a second team in 2013.

The suits also allege it was unfair to have only one professor, instead of a reasonable mix of administrators and faculty members, on each evaluation team.

A third lawsuit against the commission was filed in Superior Court on Nov. 7 by the Save CCSF Coalition, a group of faculty, students and staff. No motions have been filed in that case thus far, according to the court’s online docket.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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