ANTIOCH -- Dozier-Libbey Medical High School's future remains uncertain, but Antioch Unified's stance on keeping it in the district is clear.

Trustees voted unanimously this week to deny a petition to allow the medical-themed magnet school to become an independent charter, while establishing it as a dependent charter remaining under the auspices of the district.

"As a board member, I have to look at what's best for the entire district," said trustee Claire Smith, the lone current board member in office when the school was designed in the early 2000s and opened in 2008.

"I believe the current vision as it is presented to us tonight of Dozier-Libbey has gone off track from the board's original direction and vision," Smith said.

The 23 Dozier-Libbey teachers who petitioned for the change say they plan to appeal the board's decision with the county office of education. They also question the legality of the district's petition and its stance on the use of the facility if the school becomes an independent charter.

"The board's decision didn't come as a huge surprise," said Jefferson Weber, a Dozier-Libbey teacher. "What was interesting was that it seemed like they already had a decision predetermined. I had thought there would have been a little bit more discussion."

Still, the petitions could face "a year or so or more" of litigation to get resolved, Scott Fallbrook, the district's legal counsel, said Wednesday.

The specter of Dozier-Libbey becoming a charter has divided the community.

The tension bubbled over at times Wednesday night, as emotions ran high during more than four hours of public testimony from the standing-room-only crowd in excess of 400 at John Muir Elementary. Dozier-Libbey students and teachers wearing black shirts that said "Dozier-Libbey Medical Charter" sat on one side, with petition opponents -- many employees from other district schools -- on the other, some carrying signs lampooning the school's former "no D" policy and saying the district helped make the school what it is.

Teachers want to reinstate the "no D" policy while the district has said students should get the grades they earn. Some students prefer an F over a D, because it makes it easier to retake the class for a better grade.

As a "conversion charter," Dozier-Libbey would continue to operate as a public school but would be recognized as an independent entity and receive funding directly from the state. It would be run by a board of directors, led by an executive director, develop its own budget, hire teachers and decide whether to contract out services.

Under the approved dependent charter, Dozier-Libbey would be a part of the Antioch district, allow its students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities, make enrollment of Antioch students a priority and keep the current grading policy.

Kori Skillman, 15, of Antioch, a sophomore at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School, waves her sign against the independent charter petition for her school at
Kori Skillman, 15, of Antioch, a sophomore at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School, waves her sign against the independent charter petition for her school at the Antioch Unified School District meeting as both sides voice their ideas at John Muir Elementary School in Antioch, Calif., on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. Skillman said "why fix something that isn't broken." (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

It would also have a five-person executive committee, with two community members or parents selected by the district board to give input in school management.

The majority of those who spoke in favor of Dozier-Libbey going independent were current and former students lauding their teachers and saying they know what's best for the school.

"The teachers are friendly and supportive; they have my best interest at heart," said student Rachel Backlund, sharing her experiences of being exposed to the medical field and extra time staff puts in.

David Linzey, executive director of Clayton Valley Charter, added that the teachers have a sound petition, want to be innovative, and are eager to be successful.

Opponents countered by saying the district, through community involvement, has been a key part of making Dozier-Libbey successful. They also took exception to how the petition was filed without any input.

"I think that the 'No D' policy should be in the home with us parents," Dozier-Libbey parent Christine Todd said. "It's not the school's responsibility to decide if my kid doesn't get the grade that they earn."

Jason Larson, the district's director of program improvement, added the petition would marginalize the district's most at-risk students and called it an elitist attempt to "poach a high-achieving high school in the name of conversion."

Before the final vote, the board chided the Dozier-Libbey teachers for "blindsiding" the community with the petition, and expressed the need to move forward as a unified district.

"This is one of the most disruptive, destructive things that you could have done," trustee Barbara Cowan said. "I can't for the life of me figure out why you've done what you've done, and I hope that perhaps some of you rescind your decision."

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

MORE INFORMATION
To see the charter school petitions for Dozier-Libbey, go to www.antioch.k12.ca.us or www.facebook.com/dozierlibbey.