SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A superior court judge Tuesday detailed the steps the City College of San Francisco might take to preserve its accreditation.
In an injunction Tuesday afternoon Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow formalized a tentative ruling he issued in January that requires the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to explain in writing all the reasons for its 2013 decision to pull the school's accreditation.
The tentative decision said that the commission should have given City College the opportunity to respond in writing to deficiency findings.
"The [commission's] reporting and notice violations do undermine the fairness of the process within the meaning of the common law fair procedure doctrine," the tentative decision stated .
"These deficiencies may have been insignificant, because other deficiencies were found and the commission was entitled to terminate City College's accreditation based on any deficiency. But they may not have been insignificant."
Karnow said the commissioners might have voted differently had they read complete written responses from the school.
City College, which was not a party to the litigation, is not obligated by the court order to participate in the reconsideration process laid out in last month's 73-page order. The school may stick with a process called "restoration" that the commission created as a way to preserve accreditation.
But if City College takes the option Karnow provided, the commission has 40 days to "prepare a written report that clearly identifies any deficiencies in City College's compliance with accreditation standards as of June 2013. For each such deficiency, the Written Report must set forth the evidence as of June 2013 which supported the finding of deficiency," according to the Feb. 17 Final Injunction and Judgment.
The injunction wraps up litigation that started soon after the commission's 2013 revocation decision, which it based on what it said was a failure to show marked improvement in its staffing decisions and financial management.
San Francisco promptly filed suit on behalf of the school, claiming the commission had stacked the review panel with opponents.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera claimed the commission was driven by a legislative and philosophical debate with City College over the purpose of California community colleges. He claimed that the commission was conflicted, in violation of California's Business and Professions Code and unfair competition law.
In January, Karnow imposed a temporary injunction on the commission until a trial could weigh the school's claims that political bias and procedural flaws led to the revocation decision. The judge said then that "Without accreditation the College would almost certainly close and about 80,000 students would either lose their educational opportunities or hope to transfer elsewhere; and for many of them, the transfer option is not realistic."
The Tuesday injunction replaces the old one and states that the school may choose to opt out of the new review process or draft a written response to the findings. If City College provides a response, the commission must promptly hold a new hearing to review the response and to let the school weigh in at a hearing .
The commission may then modify or uphold its original termination decision. In either case, if the commission follows the path laid out in the injunction, it will have satisfied its obligations under the ruling.
The judge did, however, retain "jurisdiction to enforce, modify or dissolve the injunction as may be required by the interests of justice, and to take such actions as may be necessary or appropriate to carry into effect the provisions of the Injunction and Judgment."
Karnow said that throughout this reconsideration, the commission is not allowed to revoke the restoration process that it created last year. The restoration process apparently was developed as a unique response to City College's circumstances.
In a statement at the time, the commission said that while remaining "steadfast in its decision" to yank accreditation, it would give the school more time to come into compliance. The restoration process was a recognition, the body said, of "the need to balance the impact of such a decision on students with its commitment to holding CCSF and all postsecondary institutions accountable in meeting core standards ."
Commission attorneys were unavailable for comment on the final injunction Tuesday.
City Attorney Herrera said he was "very pleased" with a ruling that he characterized as "tough and thorough."
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