Schoolyard bully - Page 2

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

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In an April 1 memo, the district finalized the offer for Horace Mann and then took the offer back and offered the Burton site in an April 30 memo. Metro lawyer Paul Minney responded in a May 11 memo, demanding co-location at Horace Mann and threatening legal action. The district responded by reinstating its initial offer of Horace Mann in a May 28 memo.

"Districts have a legal obligation to provide all charter schools with appropriate space to run a quality educational program. Consideration has to be given to determine if a designated school site is able to share facilities without having a significant impact on either school's day to day operations," district spokesperson Gentle Blythe told the Guardian. "In the case of Mann and Metro, the decision to co-locate was a matter of pending litigation and the ideal process was usurped by legal constraints."

Board member Rachel Norton said that much of the miscommunication was the result of informal conversations between Envision Schools CEO Bob Lenz, Superintendent Garcia, and Horace Mann Principal Mark Sanchez about the impending move. In an e-mail dated March 11, Lenz contacted Garcia about their upcoming March 17 meeting and stated that Sanchez thought a partnership between Metro and Horace Mann would be "revolutionary." According to board policy, negotiations are made between Director of Charter Schools Mary Richards and the head of the affected charter school. Although these informal conversations aren't a violation of board policy, Norton said that these conversations created miscommunication.

Lenz wouldn't comment on Norton's remarks, but said, "It's most important to look at how the district and Envision Schools could be good partners together. Rather than look back, we look forward to participating in a transparent process with the district going forward with the Prop. 39 process."

According to Horace Mann teachers, Garcia and Sanchez claimed they were not aware that they had agreed to a final, binding offer, although correspondences suggested otherwise. E-mails dated March 30 included final offer copies of facilities for Metro to Garcia and Sanchez, who did not return our calls seeking comment by press time.

"I'm not quite sure who knew what, when," Norton said. "I think it's pretty clear that people were notified about the final offer that went out. Whether or not they saw that notification is another question. I'm certainly not accusing anyone of lying, but I think that there were just two levels of understanding because it wasn't a clear process."

"Its hard to believe that as previous president of the school board, Mark [Sanchez] did not know that this was a final offer," a Horace Mann teacher said. "This has put a huge strain on the relationship with the staff and the principal."

Despite tensions within Horace Mann staff, newly appointed Metro Principal Nick Kappelhof said he's looking forward to the next school year. "I view this as an opportunity to partner in ways that's not common in other co-locations," Kappelhof told us. "Our philosophies are aligned and we're excited to learn from them. I see it as a rich opportunity between staff and a great community."

Metro has a one-year lease with Horace Mann and will occupy eight classrooms in the sixth-grade annex building and five rooms in the main building. Although many parents have fears about these middle school and high school students interacting, staff members at Horace Mann and Metro plan on organizing different bell schedules and designating separate areas for the two groups.

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