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Robert Skeels was a public education advocate in Los Angeles who decided to become a lawyer to fight the powerful corporate charter industry. After receiving his BA in classical civilizations at UCLA, Skeels spent years as an activist, inspired by Paulo Freire, then earned his law degree in 2018. This is the only instance to my knowledge where a charter critic decided that he had to get a law degree to fight the charter industry.
As a part-time associate at a law firm in Los Angeles, he has won two cases against the powerful and well-funded charter industry.
My first win against a corporate charter school was a year ago as third chair in a suit to overturn a wrongful expulsion of a student of color. The Partnerships to Uplift Communities (“PUC”) charter chain (of convicted felon Ref Rodriguez fame) violated that student’s due process rights. Violated isn’t a strong enough word for what they did. PUC unilaterally changed the charges at the appeals hearing and branded the child as a terrorist in his permanent record. Under the tutelage of the brilliant partners at the law firm I was a part-timer at the time (I am currently transitioning to full time there), plus sage advice from @DrPrestonGreen, we built a strong case.
Skeels’ second victory came just days ago, when he defended the blogger known as Michael Kohlhaas in his pursuit of the records of a charter chain. Kohlhaas exposes the dirty secrets of government, businesses, and other powerful forces in Los Angeles. In one of his important exposes, he revealed that Nick Melvoin, who represents the charter industry on the Los Angeles school board, had shared the board’s legal strategies with the California Charter Schools Association while in litigation with them.
This latest case was a charter trying to hide all its dirty secrets by not complying with the CPRA [the open records law]. The scandal-ridden The Accelerated Schools (“TAS”) charter chain’s leaders absconded when the community started pushing back and started asking questions about union busting.
Michael Kohlhaas dot org sent sent TAS several CPRA requests in 2018, which they ignored (unlawfully). A year later, I filed the petition for writ of mandate for them. Some ten months later TAS sent some records, but claimed “blanket exemptions” on a bunch of other ones.…
An infamous law firm that only represents lucrative, privately managed charter school corporations staked out the position that any communications with the charter school industry’s trade association — the CCSA — was subject to a range of exemptions under the CPRA.
I suppose I can’t blame them. The charter industry — long used to unaccountably spending tax dollars in total secrecy — fought tooth and nail the imposition of the CPRA and Brown Act added by Ed. Code § 47604.1(b)(2)(A). When the law took effect January 2020, charter school corporations were already looking for ways to skirt the law. At the firm I’m a junior associate at, we use the CPRA for pre-discovery work against charter corporations. Michael Kohlhaas dot org, on the other hand, has used it to expose some of the ugliest, scandalous conduct by an industry already infamous for scandal. Uncovering the vile Nick Melvoin’s sharing Los Angeles Unified School District’s (“LAUSD”) confidential legal strategies with their party-opponent in a lawsuit (the CCSA) was a blockbuster revelation enabled by the CPRA.
The judge in the case ruled that the charter chain was not entitled to the blanket exemption from disclosure for its records.
Skeels wrote: “Let the corporate charter school industry know that they aren’t going to be able to hide their dark secrets anymore.”