Charter school’s Rocklin site closing its doors

Update: Horizon hires lawyer to investigate sublease
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald editor
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Lots of handshakes and hugs were given out Tuesday morning among students at the Rocklin Academy of Science, Math and Engineering who were attending their last day of class at the Technology Way site.

Cris Nole, who has two students attending ninth and 11th grade at the Horizon Charter Schools site, said she was notified via email on Friday that Tuesday would be the last day of class.

“We’re still in shock,” she said.

Her family was planning on moving already, Nole said, but had planned on having her children stay and graduate from the school. For two years, she has driven her children from their home in Antelope to school in Rocklin.

“We were just really impressed with the teachers,” she said of her decision to enroll her kids in the charter school. “And as far as I know, the teachers found out through email, as well.”

The site closure will mean big changes for the academy’s 391 students. A tenth-grader and 11th-grader standing outside school before class Tuesday said they have been informed that starting soon they will be attending classes virtually, via the Skype video-chat program.

“Basically, it’s going through what we do in our classrooms, online,” the 10th-grader said. “Then we’re going to meet up, I don’t know, like once a week for a tutor, group session. My mom works, and I don’t drive yet, so it’s going to be difficult.”

The 11th-grader said some students came to school in Rocklin twice a week, like her, while others came up to four days a week.

Superintendent Craig Heimbichner did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday morning regarding the reason behind the site closure.

Placer County Assistant Public Information Officer Mike Fitch issued a statement Tuesday saying the county did not compel any immediate closure of the school, nor did it set a specific deadline for the school to come into compliance with the terms of its business license. 

According to the terms of the business license issued for the Horizon Distance Resource Learning center in 2011, daily attendance is limited to 75 students at any one time and no more than 200 students on site throughout the day.

“Following establishment of the learning center, traffic safety issues and other land-use compatibility issues were brought to the county’s attention by managers of adjacent industrial properties,” Fitch said. “In response, county staff met with school administrators and advised them that traffic-safety issues needed to to be resolved immediately and expressed concern that it appeared the school had outgrown the use limitations of its present site.”

Roseville attorney Glenn Peterson confirmed that he has been hired by Horizon Charter Schools to investigate the terms of the lease for the site. Horizon subleased the Technology Way site from GroupAccess, the firm that provided information technology infrastructure for the school. At some point, Peterson said, the relationship between the two groups expanded and GroupAccess gained control of the Technology Way site and other premises in Auburn and Elk Grove. GroupAccess has the master lease from the site's owner, Wells Fargo Bank, and Horizon subleased the site.

"Just looking at the document itself, it's rather suspect," Peterson said of the sublease. "It's very unusual. It's a one-page document. It doesn't contain any of what I would consider to be standard or customary provisions that a sublease would have, such as incorporating, by reference, the master lease."

As part of his investigation, Peterson is trying to obtain a copy of the master lease from GroupAccess, but said his numerous requests in writing have not been acknowledged.

In reading through the sublease, Peterson said, "I have found nothing yet to indicate that the limitations on the use of that space were shared with Horizon."

Peterson said that he and his client hope that litigation isn't in their future, "but I can't rule it out, either."

Fitch said that instead of setting a date for the school to close or relocate, the county requested that the school focus its resources on solving the traffic-safety issues and begin the process of either looking for a site that could accommodate its needs or modify operations to comply with daily attendance limitations.

Principal Micheal Wood would not comment on the closure besides remarking, “It’s not as bad as it seems, I can tell you that. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding.”