San Diegans have earthquakes on the mind after a series of Baja temblors rattled homes and nerves here two weeks ago. They have less to worry about their children’s schools: California public schools are seen nationally as the gold standard for seismic safety under an exacting law called the Field Act.
But not all schools are subject to the rules. Preschools aren’t covered by them. Private schools are covered by a separate, slightly less demanding law, which doesn’t apply at all to older private schools. And charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run, don’t fall under the Field Act unless they accept state facilities money — something that is rare here — or use district buildings.
That means that charter and private schools don’t always have to occupy buildings that meet the same rigorous earthquake standards as public schools. If charters or private schools use older buildings, such as churches or offices, they may have passed muster under older, lesser codes.
When the San Diego Unified School District and the city tried to shave costs from the schoobrary — a planned school in a future downtown library — one reason they made it a charter was to dodge the stricter seismic rules and their added costs. A dated and still disputed state study estimates that the Field Act increased construction costs by 4 percent.