516 S.E.2d 655 (S.C. 1999), 24950, Beaufort County Bd. of Educ. v. Lighthouse Charter School Committee

Docket Nº:24950.
Citation:516 S.E.2d 655, 335 S.C. 230
Party Name:335 S.C. 230 BEAUFORT COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Respondent, v. LIGHTHOUSE CHARTER SCHOOL COMMITTEE and State of South Carolina ex rel. Charles M. Condon, Attorney General, Appellants.
Case Date:June 01, 1999
Court:Supreme Court of South Carolina
 
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Page 655

516 S.E.2d 655 (S.C. 1999)

335 S.C. 230

BEAUFORT COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Respondent,

v.

LIGHTHOUSE CHARTER SCHOOL COMMITTEE and State of South Carolina ex rel. Charles M. Condon, Attorney General, Appellants.

No. 24950.

Supreme Court of South Carolina

June 1, 1999.

Heard April 20, 1999.

Page 656

[335 S.C. 232] Dalton L. Oldham, of Southeastern Legal Foundation, of Columbia; and George E. Mullen, of Mullen Law Firm, of Hilton Head Island, for appellant Lighthouse Charter School Committee.

Attorney General Charles M. Condon, Deputy Attorney General Treva G. Ashworth, and Assistant Deputy Attorney General J. Emory Smith, all of Columbia, for appellant State of South Carolina.

Kenneth L. Childs, William F. Halligan, and John M. Reagle, all of Childs & Halligan, P.A., of Columbia; and David T. Duff and Charles J. Boykin, both of Duff, Dubberly, Turner, White & Boykin, L.L.C., of Columbia, for respondent.

[335 S.C. 233]MOORE, Justice:

This appeal involves the denial of a charter school application. We affirm and remand to the circuit court for further proceedings.

FACTS

On December 10, 1996, appellant Lighthouse Charter School Committee (Lighthouse) applied to respondent Beaufort County Board of Education (Beaufort Board) for approval of a local charter school under the recently-enacted South Carolina Charter Schools Act of 1996. The Beaufort Board found Lighthouse's application failed to meet several requirements of the Act and denied the application. Lighthouse appealed to the State Board of Education (State Board) which reversed the Beaufort Board's denial.

The Beaufort Board filed an appeal in circuit court. 1 The parties consented to the intervention of the Attorney General who challenged the constitutionality of a provision of the Act requiring that a charter school's enrollment cannot deviate more than ten percent from the racial composition of the school district. S.C.Code Ann. § 59-40-50(B)(6) (Supp.1998). The circuit court declined to address this constitutional question and reversed the State Board's order on the remaining

Page 657

issues. Lighthouse and the Attorney General appeal.

DISCUSSION

LIGHTHOUSE APPEAL

1. Standard of review

An appeal of a local board decision regarding a charter school application is to the State Board whose decision may [335 S.C. 234] then be appealed by any party to the circuit court. S.C.Code Ann. § 59-40-90(C)(2) (Supp.1998). In the circuit court, the State Board's order, as the final agency decision, is subject to review under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), S.C.Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6) (Supp.1998), which provides for reversal only if its findings are:

(a) in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions;

(b) in excess of the statutory authority of the agency;

(c) made upon unlawful procedure;

(d) affected by other error of law;

(e) clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record; or

(f) arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.

This Court then reviews the circuit court's order to determine whether it properly applied the APA standard of review.

In this case, the circuit court cites § 1-23-380(A)(6) as the appropriate standard of review. Lighthouse complains, however, it did not apply this standard of review and improperly gave deference to the Beaufort Board's decision rather than the State Board's decision. We disagree.

This case involves two levels of review. The State Board reviewed the Beaufort Board's findings under Reg. 43-600. 2 This regulation mirrors the APA's limited standard of review. On review of the State Board's order, the circuit court concluded the State Board should not have reversed the Beaufort Board's findings under its limited standard of review because those findings were supported by evidence in the record. In determining whether the State Board's findings were erroneous, the circuit court properly applied § 1-23-380(A)(6).

2. [335 S.C. 235] Grounds for denial of application

The Charter Schools Act provides for a privately organized school to be sponsored and funded by the local school district. S.C.Code Ann. §§ 59-40-70(E) and -140 (Supp.1998). A charter school is exempt from the laws and regulations applicable to public schools except it must:

(1) adhere to the same health, safety, civil rights, and disability rights;

(2) meet or exceed student attendance requirements;

(3) adhere to the same financial audits and procedures;

(4) be considered a school district for purposes of tort liability (specifying that tort immunity shall not include acts of intentional racial discrimination);

(5) hire non-certified teachers only in specified ratios;

(6) admit all children eligible for public school in that school district providing (a) that the charter school's racial composition cannot differ from that of the school district by more than ten percent and (b) if applications exceed capacity, students shall be accepted by lot;

(7) show no preference in admission except to siblings and children of employees;

(8) elect a governing body...

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