Dozens of students and teachers held signs and rallied at the entrance of San Fernando High School Wednesday, Feb. 17, as part of a “Walk-in” Protest held at several Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools in opposition to a plan that would turn hundreds of campuses into charter schools.
“We support our school and we want to keep it public, and we’re trying to keep the millionaires from undercutting public education,” said Angel Ortiz, computer and math teacher at San Fernando High School.
Spearheaded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the $490 million plan proposes to enroll half the city’s public school students in charter schools by 2023.
The Great Public Schools New Initiative aims to create 260 high-quality charter schools, generate 130,000 charter seats and increase the charter schools’ share of Los Angeles Unified Schools students to 50 percent.
LAUSD’s charter school program — where each campus manages its own money and resources — currently accounts for nearly 16 percent of total public school enrollment and is already the largest in the country.
“We’ve got over 50,000 students on ‘wait lists’ for charters. Why is that? It’s because parents want different choices, they want something different,” Broad Foundation spokesperson Gregory McGinity said last November, during a panel discussion on Los Angeles education.
The plan, however, has met with fierce criticism.
LAUSD board President Steve Zimmer called it “a hostile takeover” and warned that it could push LAUSD into bankruptcy because state funding would follow those students going to the charters.
The United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) is in opposition because charter school teachers are not part of the union.
Ortiz also questioned the “selection” of students for charter school programs.
“(Charter schools) don’t serve the needs of all our students. They don’t have resources to provide special education, hearing and speech, so the parents with these students would rather not go to those schools,” he said. “They don’t serve those students as well as we do.”
Some praise charter schools’ performance and decry the problem of student drop-out and low graduation rates at the LAUSD. Ortiz admits that these are real problems, but that turning half of the district schools into charter schools is not the solution.
“(Charter schools) are innovative and all that, and if you’re an above average student you can survive in any place. But the vast majority of our students are not that,” Ortiz said.
Students and teachers at several other LAUSD schools held similar rallies on Wednesday.
Anthony Yom, the AP Calculus teacher at Lincoln High School in Los Angeles —who made national headlines after one of his students earned a perfect score on this year’s AP calculus exam — said, “There are so many dedicated teachers and students in LAUSD who are doing amazing work, and we want to celebrate them in Wednesday’s walk in.”
“We need to support our students and communities by providing an education that is meaningful, accessible and equitable for all,” he added. “We do that by building the future one student, one class and one great community public school at a time.”
The “Walk-ins” were held before classes, so as not to disrupt the school day.
Other schools that took part in the protests include Buchanan Elementary School, and Mendez High School in Los Angeles, Harry Bridges Middle School in Wilmington, and San Miguel Avenue Elementary School in South Gate.
Gloria Araya, an English Language Development teacher at San Fernando High School, said those who back the plan to change public schools into charter see schools as a “business,” and “that’s not what schools are all about.”
She also spoke against the charter schools’ selections of students.
“Whether they’re special needs, low performance, we teach everybody,” Araya said. “We integrate everybody. That’s what school’s all about.”
While many students at San Fernando High held signs and seemed to support their teachers’ efforts, not all seemed to understand the issue at hand.
Sign holder Dalia de la Torre, 17, said she simply wanted to “keep our school the way it is and not change,” but did not really know whether charter or public schools were a better option.
The same was true for Robert Dado, who held a sign touting “Tiger pride.”
“Charter schools are trying to take over and we’re trying to prevent that,” he simply said.