"First and foremost we have every right to stay here"
-Citizens of the World Charters School during a previous Prop 39 co-location battle
"Since 1953 Shirley Avenue Elementary has been a vital part of the community and a safe haven for our students. We will protect and defend our school for neighborhood students and families!"
-The Shirley Elementary Community
As noted by Board Member Scott Schmerelson, Shirley "is a shining example of how our public schools can be the anchor for surrounding communities." In order to fulfill this mission, many of its classrooms are used for enrichment activities and services. These include a computer lab, a robotics room, an art and music room, a room for working one on one with students and space for afterschool programs. The Parent Center offers Adult ESL and Parenting classes and hosts meetings. Space is also provided for Mommy and Me classes that are offered to the community. However, since a teacher is not assigned to these rooms, the California Charter School Association (CCSA) considers them to be empty and insists that they should be given away to the schools that they represent.
While the charter school industry has been shown to fall short in serving children with disabilities, particularly those that are classified as moderate to severe, Shirley has a special education program in place that helps students reach their full potential. They have two Preschool for All Learners classes, one preschool class based on the inclusion model that combines typical students with those needing special education services, two classes serving students with moderate intellectual disabilities and a full-time resource teacher. To give these students the services that they need, the school has allocated rooms for psychological services, adaptive physical education, interventions, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. The charter school considers all of these rooms available for the taking.
A co-location will impact the special education program in other ways. With the current configuration, restroom space is allocated so that "constant diapering and changing students' clothing" can be accommodated. This may not be possible with an influx of students from a separate school sharing the same facilities. Furthermore, "nearly half of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) attempt to wander or bolt from a safe, supervised place." With a closed campus, Shirley is able to minimize the risk by limiting a student's ability to leave the school grounds. However, adding a separate layer of administration to the campus with a co-location will complicate the ability to control the campus and protect students.
For all the threats to the education of students at Shirley, there is no guarantee that CWC will actually use the space that they are trying to forcibly take. Last year, GANAS Charter Academy pulled out of a co-location after teachers had vacated rooms and construction had already started to transform the school to the charter's specifications. In the case of CWC, the LAUSD charged them $966,915.74 for space they demanded from the district but did not use during the last three fiscal years. Of these charges, $477,752.87 was for space that they did not use for two of their co-locations in the last school year. Their inability to fill their existing locations to capacity calls into question their prediction that 250 students will attend this new Valley campus. This is especially true given reports within the community that there are only 53 parents on the email thread for the new school.
To date, the community at Shirley has gathered 1,210 signatures demanding "that Citizens of the World Charter School cease all interest in petitioning to co-locate at our campus." They have garnered the attention of Board Member Scott Schmerelson, who has publicly stated that he does "not support this disruptive, divisive co-location." The other six LAUSD board members must also step up and support the 80% of students who attend public schools. The district must end the hostile takeover of space needed to give public school students the education that they deserve.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, and a member of theLAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.