Judge Upholds Special Needs School's Lease, Against District's Wishes

Excelsior Academy can stay at its location until June 2021

A judge has ruled an Allied Gardens school, which caters to special needs students, will be able to stay at its location until 2021, despite objections from the San Diego Unified School District.

In May, Excelsior Academy filed a lawsuit against the SDUSD, claiming the district violated the terms of the school’s lease when it told administrators to vacate their location by March 2018.

The SDUSD sold the property to the Islamic School of San Diego for $2,775,000 in February.

"The reason the school district did not want Excelsior to stay in the property longer, as far as we understand it, is that they received a notice from the Islamic School of San Diego requesting that we be thrown out, or Excelsior be thrown out,” said Sean Ponist, the attorney for Excelsior.

But this week, a judge ruled the school can stay in its lease until at least June 2021.

Julia Gillis, who is a member of Excelsior’s board of directors, considers the ruling a win, but she told NBC 7 she wishes it never got to this point.

"I guess [it’s] upsetting, concerning that any school district would be willing to do something to be so detrimental to students, if that were to happen,” said Gillis.

She explained getting a termination notice in the middle of the school year was disturbing for the staff, parents and students who attend the school for its unconventional teaching methods and small class sizes.

The school specializes in helping students with a variety of learning and attention disabilities.

“I think I got an A on my last math test, which has never happened before, ever,” said student Maddy Ringer, who deals with ADHD. “I actually get the homework.”

NBC 7 has been in contact with the SDUSD about the ruling. A spokesperson said they are weighing the option of filing a motion objecting the judgment.

The complicated part now is what happens to this property. Escrow is supposed to close at the end of the week.

According to the district, the Islamic School of San Diego agreed to purchase the property regardless of the outcome of the case, but this week's judgment means they can't use the property until 2021.

The Islamic School sent NBC 7 the following statement days after our story aired: 

“We are disappointed by the statements that have been attributed to Excelsior Academy and its representatives concerning the former Benchley Elementary School. The Excelsior Academy dispute was with the San Diego Unified School District over a lease provision between those two parties. It is unfortunate that Excelsior felt the need to unnecessarily accuse the Islamic School of San Diego in its dispute and incorrectly claim that the school wanted Excelsior to be 'thrown out.' The Islamic School of San Diego respects Excelsior Academy’s mission and the work it performs and wishes Excelsior continued success in its search for a permanent location for its school.”

Contact Us