Foes of Miraleste Closure Hail Ruling : Appeals Court Says District Must Weigh Environmental Effects

Times Staff Writer

An appeals court has ruled that the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District must consider the potential environmental effects before it can close Miraleste High School.

The decision, issued Tuesday by the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles, upholds a May, 1988, ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Miriam Vogel. The appellate ruling was hailed by a parents group as an important victory in their efforts to prevent the school board from closing the under-enrolled campus on the east side of the peninsula.

'Detrimental Effect'

"We are elated that the appeal court understood and agreed . . . that closing Miraleste would have a highly detrimental effect on the safety and education of the children involved," Donna Perrin, president of the East Peninsula Education Council, said Wednesday.

However, the parents group, which has been fighting for more than two years to preserve the neighborhood high school, faces another hurdle. While waiting for the results of the appeal, the school board has been preparing an environmental impact report that could meet the requirements set by Vogel's order.

Supt. Jack Price said Wednesday that "it is unlikely but possible" that Miraleste will be closed this fall. He said "a lot depends" on when the environmental review process is completed.

Vogel ruled that despite a 1983 law that generally exempts school districts from filing environmental reports when they close schools, the peninsula district must consider the potential cumulative effect of multiple school closings on the east side.

Her ruling barred the school board from carrying out its November, 1987, decision to close Miraleste as part of a money-saving plan to consolidate the district's 9,800 students on campuses in the central and west side of the peninsula. Five other campuses on the east side have been closed in recent years.

Nancy Mahr, a spokeswoman for the peninsula school system, said the district based its appeal on the 1983 legislation that exempted school districts from requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. She said it appeared unlikely that the peninsula board would carry its appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The clear purpose of the 1983 law, she said, was to allow districts with declining enrollments to close surplus schools without going through the lengthy and costly process of preparing environmental reports.

However, in a unanimous decision, the three-member panel of appellate judges focused on a related law that deals with the environmental consequences of transferring substantial numbers of students within a school district.

Safety Issue Cited

About a thousand intermediate and high school students would be reassigned to campuses in the central and western parts of the peninsula if Miraleste closes. The parents group has contended that the safety and quality of education of east-side students would be endangered by daily commuting over the peninsula's rough terrain on winding roads.

The group has rejected several compromise proposals by the school board, including a plan to preserve the Miraleste campus by converting it to a middle school.

"Now that the appeal process is over, we're hopeful that the school board will work with us in maintaining a quality, K-12 education program on the east side," said Ted Gibbs, a spokesman for the Miraleste parents group. "If they are not, then we will continue our efforts to form our own school district."

Those efforts are stalled in Sacramento until the State Board of Education rules on the group's petition to secede. The agency was scheduled to take up the issue earlier this year but decided to wait until Gov. George Deukmejian fills four vacancies on the 11-member board.

Mahr said a consultant is expected to present an environmental impact report to the peninsula school board at its June 5 meeting. That will be followed by a 45-day period for public hearings, then two weeks more for the consultant to prepare the final report, she said.

The school board could then declare that it has met the requirements set by Vogel and proceed with its plans to close Miraleste.

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