MDUSD Under Scrutiny for Treatment of New Charter
By Jim Mills
Despite the considerable number of under-performing schools in MDUSD, the district has long fought charter schools, having approved only one (Eagle Peak Montessori) in the last 30 years. Long after charter schools became commonplace in other large school districts like Oakland, LA, SF, San Diego, San Jose and elsewhere, MDUSD stood out for its success in keeping public charter options out of its territory. Only after appealing to County and State authorities have charter schools finally begun to get a toehold in the district. After denials from the district and the County, Rocketship Futuro Academy in Concord was approved last year by the State and opened its doors in the fall to 100 students, 87% of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds (a much higher percentage than in the district at large).
The new charter school is co-housed with Ayers Elementary School, which has already produced friction with the district. The charter’s parent organization, Rocketship Education, a non-profit national charter school operator based in San Jose, has filed a complaint that the small school has been discriminated against, in terms of its use of Ayers facilities, and that its largely minority student body has also been subject to mistreatment and harassment by district employees.
Among the claims are charges that:
- Charter school employees have been denied equal access to the school kitchen to prepare food for their students, as provided in the lease agreement;
- The school has been denied the right to beautify and decorate its own campus, which has been surrounded by a “cage-like” structure and chain-link fences, separating it from the rest of the Ayers campus;
- District personnel have severely limited access by charter students to the school play areas for typical recess times.
When the charter school teachers and students tried to show school pride by displaying college flags and planting a garden of native plants – the sorts of things one finds on many elementary school campuses – the district opposed the changes and reportedly removed the garden without the school’s permission. The East Bay Times covered this embarrassing situation in an article on January 11.
The agenda for the January 23 MDUSD board meeting has an item (17.5) addressing the Rocketship charter school’s facility. Let’s hope that this signals that the district will adopt a more welcoming attitude to a school that is finally giving the disadvantaged students in the Monument Blvd Corridor an alternative to the under-performing schools that the district expects them to attend.