Safety concerns pushes back one school’s re-opening

A structural inspection deemed the century-old school property unsafe.

by Mira Reverente

The first day of school at Ventura County Christian School (VCCS) was pushed back by a week after its lease was terminated by its landlord, the Ventura Unified School District (VUSD).

Almost 200 students in the K-12 private school headed back to their classrooms last Monday, August 29, amidst an air of uncertainty and unpredictability. Parents congregated outside while doing their morning drop-off, mostly seeking answers and clarity amidst the ongoing discord between the school and the school district.

A structural inspection by architectural firm 19six had deemed the century-old school property along MacMillan Avenue unsafe.

VUSD board president Sabrena Rodriguez said, “The results were that it would not provide safety in the event of a natural disaster.”

The private school’s principal Perry Geue pushed to re-open classes last Monday, August 29, claiming the district misinterpreted the findings of the inspection report. In a recent interview, Geue said, “School has started and we have no place to go.”

Geue also said that they do not agree that their school is unsafe and feels that “other intentions are at play.”

Lease negotiations have been ongoing for months now between VUSD and VCCS first over the rent negotiations followed by a lease clause saying the school would agree not to discriminate in hiring based on religion.

Geue said they could potentially be forced to hire teachers who “don’t hold to a Christian worldview.”

Ron Bamieh, a lawyer for the school, claims the clause was an “overt act of prejudice against the Christian school.” But Rodriguez disagrees, saying the lease language is standard in all district leases and also covers race, gender, sexual orientation, among other categories.

In a letter to district officials, Bamieh said the district refused to strike the religion component from the clause. The district pointed out that the same clause could be found in the school’s last lease, but Bamieh claims he was not aware of the clause’s inclusion in the previous lease.

Also based on the report’s findings, the Ventura County Schools Self-Funding Authority, a multi-district cooperative that provides property insurance for the district, has also declared that the school building would not be covered in the event of a disaster such as an earthquake.

VCCS moved into the former Washington School building almost two decades after the public school closed in 1983 amid structural concerns. An inspection in 2001 found the ground sufficiently stable and the school began leasing the building. It also poured in about $3.5 million for various repairs and improvements.

In 2003, Thousand Oaks engineering firm Vinci & Associates declared the building structurally sound.

But the school and its lawyers say the district misinterpreted the report, citing the findings of its own commissioned report by Vinci & Associates.

According to the Vinci report, “While further study of the building is prudent, nothing on-site or in the recommendations by the (19six report) warrants vacating the facility at this time.”

Furthermore, the report said, “The items noted as recommendations either can be easily addressed and rectified, or require further study and review.”

While Rodriguez contends the lease is no longer in effect as of August 19, Bamieh said the district could not terminate the lease under the terms of the agreement. The district had already validated the new lease by cashing the school’s deposit and two rent payments.

“If they think they have a good case, let’s bring it to court, litigate it.” said Bamieh, during a news conference on the first day of school.

Amidst the crowd gathered at the school’s entrance, their board president Dustin Lyons said she and her fellow parents had “zero concern” with the building’s integrity and “feels like we’re standing on solid ground.”

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