San Jose Unified School District denies certification to charter schools
Parents and supporters of Downtown College Prep attended a rally at the San Jose Unified School District office asking the district to certify DCP in good standing. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

San Jose’s largest public school district has denied certification to two charter schools, which parents say puts student services at risk.

The San Jose Unified School District chose not to certify Downtown College Prep (DCP) in good standing in October, which disqualifies the public charter school from receiving state funding through the Charter School Facility Grant Program.

The California School Finance Authority, which administers the grant program, notified DCP of its ineligibility on Jan. 11. DCP appealed, but the finance authority board upheld its decision which went into effect on June 24.

The two schools directly affected are El Camino Middle School and El Primero High School, both of which serve the low-income Latino community.

With $1.2 million in grant funding at stake, the Downtown College Prep Parent Coalition staged a rally at San Jose Unified School District’s headquarters on Monday demanding certification.

Parent Sarahi Cid Luna, lead advocate for the coalition, said the lack of funding will cut resources for student services after a year of distance learning and increased need; services such as counselors and classroom support for students with disabilities and English learners.

Based on the 2020 California School Dashboard, El Primero High School has a total of 536 students enrolled; 93.3% are Hispanic/Latino and 84.3% are socioeconomically disadvantaged. El Camino Middle School has a total of 573 students enrolled; 90.1% are Hispanic/Latino and 86.7% are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

“This has to do with funding for our children, the future leaders of our community,” Cid Luna told the district through a sound system. “Why are you so inflexible when you know we need these funds?”

Parent Sarahi Cid Luna said the lack of funding will cut resources for student services such as counselors and support for students with disabilities and English learners. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

To receive the funding, a charter school needs to be in compliance with the terms of its charter agreement, not have any notices of violation and be certified in good standing with its school district.

Cid Luna said DCP fulfilled all of the district’s requirements, including $50 million in excess insurance which the district and all SJUSD charter schools must carry.

But SJUSD spokesperson Jennifer Maddox said the district notified DCP in December 2019 that it needed the $50 million insurance policy, and that DCP didn’t get the policy until after the state denied its funds.

Additionally, Maddox said Downtown College Prep wasn’t in compliance with its charter agreement, as the academic performance of its students was lacking in comparison with similar district high schools.

According to the California School Dashboard, in 2019, El Primero High School students scored 22.4 points below average for English language arts and 153.3 points below average for math. El Camino Middle School students scored 52 points below average for English language arts and 97.5 points below average for math.

Due to this, the charter school was required to receive and implement advice from the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, which Maddox said it didn’t do when asked.

Lastly, Maddox said the charter school was supposed to join the El Dorado County Special Education Local Plan Area consortium to ensure special education services are available to all eligible children. This and the other issues were not completed when the district was asked to complete DCP’s certification status.

“We had conversations with them all along about what they needed to do,” Maddox said. “Our board president has indicated they’re not going to revisit it.”

Kathryn Hanson, board president for Downtown College Prep, said the charter school sent voicemails to SJUSD board members to request a special meeting, but the request was declined.

Hanson said El Camino and El Primero will lose direct program activity which will affect summer school, curriculum, mental health services and funds for easing the return of students to school after distance learning.

“They are all highly needed student services,” she said. “It’s so unfair to the students.”

DCP parents and supporters are asking SJUSD to change its status to a certification of good standing so it can receive state charter school funding. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Cid Luna said this is a political issue aimed at charter schools.

“Is your anti-charter hatred so big that you’re willing to ignore minority low-income students already denied equitable opportunities?” she asked the district.

But Maddox said San Jose Unified School District has no issue with charter schools.

“We do have expectations our charter schools will fulfill the requirement of their charter authorization,” she said.

Heidi Schmittel, an English language development specialist for DCP, said the charter school provides a unique experience for students.

“DCP students get the individual attention they need to prepare for college,” she said. “It’s just a really special place.”

Parent Sarah Ruiz, who saw DCP Alviso and a DCP school on Lenzen Avenue close, said the district seems to be dead set on closing El Camino and El Primero.

“This isn’t the first time we had to come to the district to fight to keep a school open,” she said. “If you’re taking away that amount of money, things are going to close.”

Maddox disputed that.

“I don’t think there’s a risk of them having to close without the grant this year,” Maddox said.

El Primero High School student Seth Ruiz said Downtown College Prep helped him over the years.

“Since I’m going to be a senior, I’m going to need all the support I can get from my teachers,” he said. “DCP gives me the support I need. If kids don’t have access to that support, they would lose a better chance at being successful later on in life.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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