Schoolyard bully

A charter high school uses legal threats to squeeze into Horace Mann Middle School without notifying parents or teachers

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The San Francisco Unified District is facing scrutiny over its decision to move a charter high school into Horace Mann Middle School for the 2010-11 school year. Parents and teachers at Horace Mann and even members of the Board of Education were not informed of this decision until it was finalized last month, sparking questions about how this decision could have been made without communicating to all the parties involved.

This is the third time in recent years that the district has moved charter schools into public school facilities without notifying employees and parents before a decision is reached. In 2008, the district decided to relocate Excelsior Middle School to International Studies Academy High School, notifying parents of the move just months before the school year started. The charter school City Arts and Technology took over Excelsior's site and was notified of the move a month before Excelsior parents.

In another case from 2008, district officials made a decision to co-locate Denman Middle School with Leadership High Charter School, again without informing the community of its decision until it was finalized. Now the charter school Metro Arts and Technology High School is moving from Burton High School in the Bayview District to Horace Mann in the Mission.

San Francisco Board of Education member Jill Wynns didn't know about Metro's move until parents brought up the issue at the June meeting. She said it's hard to let the community know about impending decisions because balancing community involvement and trying to avoid "public hysteria" is a difficult task. "Our commitment is to involve the community, but they are not allowed to make the decisions," Wynns told the Guardian. "We want them to know, but the decision is not up to them."

Still, Horace Mann teachers said that the district's habit of not notifying the community of its decisions isn't fair, especially since Metro parents knew about the move months before they did. "The process is really disrespectful to the parents and it's happening consistently to the disempowered," a Horace Mann teacher who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, told us. "This is happening to schools with high amounts of people of color and low socioeconomic statuses."

Envision Schools, the Oakland-based organization managing two charter schools in San Francisco, including Metro, wrote a letter to Superintendent Carlos Garcia on Oct. 15 requesting to move Metro to another facility, citing lack of natural light in its classrooms, lack of offices and spaces for administration, inadequate science labs, and lack of an identifiable school front entrance. Metro is protected under Proposition 39, a law voters approved in 2000 mandating that school districts must accommodate charter schools with facilities comparable to those used by other students.

Wynns said part of the problem is that Prop. 39 gives charter schools too much power. "The regulations are all biased in favor of the charter schools, and the charter schools rights are paramount," Wynns told us. "We had Metro in a facility that, in my opinion, was more Prop. 39 compliant than the facility they will be going to now. And now we are going to crowd them in a middle school."

Board members who criticize the deal say that the district didn't follow district policy in this case. Wynns said that while some members of the board were under the impression that Metro was staying at Burton or that Horace Mann was only a consideration, district officials had already made the decision that Metro was moving to Horace Mann without notifying the board — a violation of board policy.

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