Imagine if your student was being bullied at school. As parents, we would take the necessary steps to prevent this unacceptable behavior and alert school administrators. Often times, it’s simply name-calling or teasing. However, what may be perceived as an unintended act can quickly turn into an unfortunate situation when a schoolyard bully uses his or her own strength or influence to intimidate another student.
Fortunately, every school district in California has established set policies prohibiting student bullying from occurring on campus. Strategies for bullying prevention and intervention have been developed within school communities to protect students from physical and emotional harm.
But can “bullying” solely be defined as student-on-student activity? Consider if this same type of intimidation and aggressive behavior was orchestrated by a gang of school district superintendents against a high-performing charter school.
Would the community speak out against this unseemly action? Would the education establishment stand by silently and allow another group to use its official position of strength, influence and unlimited use of taxpayer resources to intimate and harass students, parents, teachers and school administrators?
Here in Santa Clarita Valley, this scenario has been playing out for many years against the desire of parents and students seeking an alternative learning experience. Superintendents from Newhall, Castaic and Saugus school districts have ruled that charter schools simply don’t belong here. Together, they have conspired to bully, intimidate and harass charter schools from opening within their borders.
Most recently, they have targeted Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts, and Sciences (AEALAS) from expanding its successful K-12 program to a new campus site in Santa Clarita. Over a four-year period, school district officials have made multiple public threats against our school’s two authorizing districts. They have shared public opinions that charter schools are for poor, underprivileged students and that school boards — not parents — know what’s best for students. They have lobbied the Santa Clarita City Council to oppose permits for our new AEALAS campus. They have petitioned state and county education departments to audit and investigate AEALAS without evidence of any wrongdoing. They have even been so bold as to take out newspaper ads in our authorizer’s district with the intent of defaming school board members and poaching students.
Failing to deter AEALAS’ commitment to opening our new school campus on August 22, the gang of superintendents has now taken their campaign of intimidation to the courtroom and all the way to Sacramento to change existing charter school law in California. Their systematic efforts to limit parent choice and student access has garnered the attention of State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) who has introduced legislation that single-handedly targets the expansion of AEALAS and criticizes our authorizer, Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District. Additionally, lawyers for the Santa Clarita Valley school districts have recently filed a restraining order asking a judge to prohibit our new AEALAS campus from opening.
In their testimony last month before the Assembly Education Committee, Superintendents Marc Winger and Joan Lucid explicitly stated that this issue is not about the validity of charter schools. However, their actions of intimidation and aggressive behavior over the four-year period tell a different story. To date, Newhall, Castaic nor Saugus school districts have authorized a single charter school. Clearly, the gang of superintendents strongly believes that charter schools don’t belong in Santa Clarita Valley.
But what motivates this bullying mentality? Is it fear of innovation and change? Or is it simply a turf war over precious ADA funding?
As a community, we should embrace charter schools such as AEALAS. It has a remarkable and proven scholastic record boasting API scores higher than its high school counterparts in the Santa Clarita Valley. Increased parent demand has created large waiting lists. We should also applaud the efforts of the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District who did not stand by silently but, rather, acted on behalf of thousands of students who deserve a quality education regardless of boundaries.
The education of our children is too important to be controlled by schoolyard bullies. The opportunity and innovation that comes with charter schools should be welcomed here in the Santa Clarita Valley as it has been around California. Let’s hope at the end of the day our community sends a message that bullying of any kind will simply not be tolerated. It’s time to make Santa Clarita Valley a superintendent bully-free zone.
About the Authors: Rabbi Mark Blazer is the founder of Albert Einstein Academy. Dr. Jeffrey Shapiro is the CEO of the Albert Einstein Academy. Both are residents of Stevenson Ranch and are parents of recent graduates and current students of AEALAS.
Originally published in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal.