Is the Co-Location of Charters Inside Neighborhood Schools a Problem?

This past summer I had opportunity to visit the Hawkins community schools in Los Angeles. What I haven’t talked about publicly is that I was also invited to visit Magnolia Science Academy 3 (MSA3)   which is co-located at Curtiss Middle School in Carson California during the same trip. The Magnolia schools are affiliated with the Gulen charters, the second largest network of charters in the United States (Read more about what that means in the post Breaking News: California NAACP calls for investigation of ALL Gülen charters)

A few months after the trip, there are a few things that really stick out in my mind about the visit to MSA3.

Magnolia Science Academy 3 in Carson, CA

First, the faculty at the school talked about the small class sizes at MSA3. I only saw about 5 classes, but I counted and the class sizes in the rooms that I saw were 30+, which didn’t jive with the small class sizes that they told me about.

The second experience that really stuck out to me was that we walked into a science class and the teacher was showing a film that featured an adult (or maybe a teen) prancing around on a stage in a diaper. My science classes never featured curriculum this exciting (well maybe, in chemistry we blew things up), the teacher explained that she was showing a movie to “prepare the students for high school.” What?!

Third, faculty at MSA3 complained that they couldn’t use the gym and other facilities when they wanted because they were co-located on the same campus with Curtiss Middle School (more on this in a moment). I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sympathetic.

Was there anything that I liked about MSA3 during the visit? I am a hip hop fan. In one of the classes the teacher showed how he was helping students program their own hip hop tracks. Now that was cool! But relevant?

The MSA3 staff also told me an interesting story. Apparently, there was a single trash can in an alley that faced the administrative offices of MSA3. So they called LAUSD to complain about the trash can being in their view from their windows— the district responded by dropping off a second trash can. The MSA3 staff then called to complain about the two trash cans, the district dropped off a third trash can. I counted five trash cans in the alley.

So back, to the co-locations issue. California has a law that forces traditional, neighborhood schools to give space to privately operated charter schools. Today, In the Public Interest (ITPI) has a new video out highlighting the problems with the co-locations of charters schools on the campuses of traditional, neighborhood schools. Here’s what ITPI had to say about their new video:

You’d think Independence High School would at least get to use all of its sprawling campus on San Jose’s east side. California ranks 41st nationwide in how much it spends per public school student. And its district, the East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD), is losing nearly $20 million a year because of charter schools in its boundaries.

But, due to a little-known state law, Independence is being forced to share space with three charter schools—that’s right, three.

One student wanted to use the gym. “My school’s black student union wanted to hold an art show for Black History Month, and we weren’t able to use our own school’s small gym due to the charters’ extensive reservations,” she says in the video.

Another has to walk home from school late at night because on some days charter students get first dibs on the sports fields.

“As a school district, we have to allow them comparable time and use for fields, gyms, practice spaces. In many instances, that does displace our own students,” says Marcus Battle, former Associate Superintendent of ESUHSD.

Battle is referring to Prop 39, which was passed by voters in 2000 as part of a school funding ballot initiative. The law allows charter school operators to “co-locate” at neighborhood schools, and it’s causing headaches up and down the state.

In San Diego, students at one of the charter schools operated by a chain called Thrive Public Schools have bullied the neighborhood school students they share a campus with, according a teacher at Carver Elementary.

In Los Angeles, students at North Hollywood High School recently protested and won to keep a charter school from sharing their campus. There are total of 102 charter schools co-locating in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In San Francisco, Malcolm X Academy was forced to co-locate with KIPP Bay Area Charter, losing space used for garden and art classes, one-on-one support, restorative practices, and wellness services. Malcom X, a school that serves predominantly low-income black and latinx students, had no say in the matter.

Until California reforms its charter school laws, the headaches will continue, particuarly for schools and students already struggling with dwindling resources.

Co-locations is clearly another issue we must limit and regulate with new legislation in California and elsewhere.

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