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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/29/21

Victory For A Public School?

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"It's been a roller coaster of emotions for the Shirley community." - Francine Matthews

For almost two years, the community at Shirley Avenue Elementary School has been fighting back against an invasion by the Citizens of the World nationwide chain of charter schools. In a David versus Goliath type of fight, the public school community at this neighborhood school with a long history found themselves battling with a privately run charter school backed by Hollywood money. The Shirley community endured attacks on their First Amendment rights, harassment from LAUSD officials, and a lack of support from their elected representatives. Their students lost access to rooms previously used to provide special education services, a robotics program, and music education so that the charter school could be given space to which they were not entitled. The situation appeared to be headed in an even more dire direction as pro-charter school board member Nick Melvoin is set to become their new representative under redistricting in January. Still, the community soldiered on.

(Image by Citizens of the World Charter Schools)   Details   DMCA

This week, the tenacious warriors at Shirley finally received some good news. Citizens Of The World has announced that for the next school year their West Valley franchise will move to a private location. Unless Nick Melvoin and the Charter School Division target them with a new co-location, Shirley students will once again have access to the space needed for their vital programs. The school's TSP/Title 1 Advisor, Francine Matthews, says that the return of this space will allow Shirley to "finally give our students the space and social-emotional enrichment rooms that they deserve."

The news of Citizens of the World's departure is being received with a healthy amount of skepticism as the charter chain is not known for its honesty. The schools market themselves as reflecting "the abundant socioeconomic, racial and cultural diversity of their surroundings", but their demographics on the Shirley campus are vastly different than the public school. It has also been over two years since Executive Director Mark Kleger-Heine committed to pay what the schools owe to the LAUSD for overallocation fees. As of December 15, this debt totaled $1,068,684, including $34,625 owed for taking more space than they were entitled to at Shirley.

Still, the news does offer a ray of hope after two years of conflict. "Especially during Covid times when we are all seeing a high need in more social-emotional learning," Matthews says. "It would be amazing to finally give our special education students back their more than deserved therapy rooms to help integrate the learning loss from the pandemic in a more structure and intensive therapy space."

If Citizens of the World does follow through with their promise to move to their own private campus, the community at Shirley is committed to taking the steps needed to make their school a less attractive co-location target. This includes increasing the amount of green space on their campus, a project that would be helped along if the charter school paid their $34,625 debt. It is the least the charter school could do after disrupting the education of public school students for the past two years.

Experience has shown that Citizens Of The World is not going to meet its financial obligations without pressure from the Charter School Division. The community at Shirley hopes "that the district will finally do right by these BIPOC students and students with special education services and put them first."

Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He is an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and serves as the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him "a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles." For links to his blogs, please visit Opinions are his own.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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