A public charter school targeted by the Santa Clara County Office of Education is fighting to retain its charter.
Bullis Charter School in the Los Altos School District is facing accusations of discrimination by the county Board of Education that it’s under-enrolling Hispanic English-language learners, students with disabilities and socio-economically disadvantaged students. Maureen Israel, superintendent and principal of Bullis Charter School, said these claims are baseless and the county office of education is ignoring its recent data. Students are chosen through a lottery.
Approximately 1,026 students attend the TK-8 public charter school, where 32 languages are spoken. Bullis doesn’t discriminate against students in its lottery process, Israel said, and revised its charter two years ago to add a preference for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch in and out of district. Information provided to potential students is in English, Spanish and Mandarin. The school also employs workers who speak multiple languages.
Israel said last year Bullis saw a 95% increase in its socio-economically disadvantaged population and a 47% increase in its English-language learners population. The demographics being questioned by the county office of education are within 5 percentage points of local district demographics, she said.
“There continues to be a false narrative that we do not represent our local district,” she told San José Spotlight. “However, when we look at the data of schools the county authorizes, we are one of the schools that actually has the most parity in these key subpopulations.”
Israel said the board of education is including out of district students in its calculations, although the charter school’s facilities agreement with the local district prevents it from enrolling out of district students beyond its current 8% of total enrollment. She said Bullis, a high performing charter school that’s been in the district for 20 years, “cannot be anywhere remotely near the zone of possible non-renewal” simply because its student population doesn’t precisely mirror that of the Los Altos School District.
“It feels terrible to have that narrative persist,” she said. “It’s detrimental to our families, to our communities.”
Mary Ann Dewan, Santa Clara County Office of Education superintendent, told San José Spotlight the underrepresentation at Bullis of several historically underserved groups has been a longstanding area of concern. She said following the Charter Schools Act, the county board of education sent a notice to Bullis in May 2021 to provide time for it to respond and remedy the situation.
Dewan said in response to notices sent to Bullis about its enrollment demographics, the school has taken the necessary steps to enroll students from historically underserved groups.
“When (Bullis) submits its request for renewal of its charter (expected in the 2024-25 school year), the county board of education will process that renewal request in accordance with all requirements of law,” she said, “and will make its renewal decision based on all the facts and applicable legal standards.”
For parent Jolee Crosson, who has enrolled her second grader at Bullis since kindergarten, the charter school is the perfect choice. In addition to being the closest neighborhood school within walking distance, her son adores its drama program, one among many specialty offerings.
“He absolutely thrives,” she told San José Spotlight. “He just loves his school. He’s happy.”
Israel said the school’s student population performs well above district and state averages, including English-language learners and students with disabilities. Bullis is a National Blue Ribbon and California Distinguished School.
“We’ve been really proud to get these recognitions and it’s really frustrating that those merits aren’t what we’re being judged by,” she said.
Crosson hopes the board of education focuses on the school’s current data, and said closing Bullis would be devastating to families and children.
“You create a community,” she said. “There are 1,000 kids between the two campuses. That’s a lot of people to displace. Let’s be thoughtful about the kids.”
Crosson said efforts are being made by the school and parent association to put information in different languages as one way to help people in the community feel welcome.
“We keep changing and adjusting,” she said, adding she’d like the county to work collaboratively with the school rather than repeating what seems to be a false and outdated narrative. “We all want to move forward.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].