Orange County charter requests county education board pass to drop local approvals



When the Orange County Classical Academy appeared before the Orange Unified Board of Education in December 2019 seeking a charter to operate a K-5 school that would offer 360 students a formal education program, it was a tough sale.

In a 14-page report, school district staff recommended that board members dismiss the petition, saying the charter proposal was inadequate, its budget documents “fundamentally flawed” and its education plan substandard. State of California.

They maintained that their report’s findings were legally sufficient to substantiate the board’s outright denial of the charter, but also issued a warning.

Staff concluded that if the petitioners decide to come up with another charter, they have “the knowledge, understanding and expertise to both write an educational, fiscal and practice charter petition and to operate a strong charter school. “.

What followed was an hour-long public hearing between the administrators and around 50 public commentators, who spoke passionately on both sides of the debate. Supporters touted the school’s commitment to scholarship, moral character, and civic virtue while criticizing public schools and teachers.

Although board members urged people to show civility throughout the hearing, audience members used cheers, taunts, and even chants as the 1-hour meeting approached. h 30.

A divided board of directors ultimately voted 4-3 in favor of continuing the petition, paving the way for the Orange County Classical Academy – a school founded by the conservative think tank California Policy Center – to open in July 2020.

Now, in their second school year, principals are looking to grow and have charted a course that could allow them to operate multiple campuses across the county without having to seek or obtain approval from individual districts, such as this is the norm.

Last month, OCCA members submitted a petition to the charter school with the Orange County Department of Education that, if approved, would allow operators to shut down the single-site campus on June 30, 2022 and reopen as OCCA II – a county-wide TK-12 charter school that could attract students and operate within the boundaries of the unified school districts of Huntington Beach City, Huntington Beach Union High, Orange and Placentia-Yorba Linda.

Their proposal only needs approval by the Orange County Board of Education, some of whose members have spoken openly in favor of the choice of school and charter schools and whose election campaigns have been supported. by charter organizations and PACs.

In a public hearing on Wednesday, school leaders pleaded for becoming a county-wide charter. Principal Semi Park reported that students in Grades 3 through 5 who took the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests surpassed the state average in English and math.

Park also said the school, in its first year, added two sixth-grade classes, reclassified 55% of English learners and maintained reserve funding of $ 200,000.

“It is an education in moral virtue, such as courage, learned through good habits and intellectual virtues, such as prudence and wisdom, which are based on moral virtues,” she told members. of the county administrative board. “It is truly meant to serve all students, regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status or ability.”

With 420 students enrolled in TK-6 courses, the waiting list to enter OCCA has reached a peak of 700 last names, Park said, indicating a strong appetite in Orange County for teaching. classic proposed.

To gain county-wide charter school status, the California Education Code states that an institution must prove that it can provide educational services to a student body that cannot be served as well by a school. chartered from a single district.

David Patterson is president of California Charter Authorizing Professionals, a nonprofit support agency in Sacramento that oversees charters. In an interview on Friday, he said he was involved in the early discussions that informed this part of the code.

Such arrangements were made to accommodate programs that would need to rely on a larger geographic area than a single district to occupy seats, such as military academies or bilingual immersion schools.

“There were times when it made sense because of the nature of a program, where a county-wide approach made more sense than having to deal with individual districts,” Patterson explained, adding that it was up to the county councils to interpret and apply the code.

“It was clearly written in a way that gave counties the opportunity to pass judgment,” he said.

County status petition charters must also be able to show that parents are genuinely interested in their children attending school.

OCCA supporters argued Wednesday that the program was unique and offered a program that students could not take in their home district. Officials used the waiting list to the fullest as proof of parental interest, and several parent speakers supported the request.

“Every day I get phone inquiries about enrollment possibilities,” said Yesenia Flores, mother of two OCCA students, whose work as a volunteer parent has turned into a job as a teacher. campus instructor. “I really want to share this community experience with other families who value the same for their children.”

Commission members listened to comments throughout the hearing and did not provide any critical analysis. This could happen in January, when the panel is expected to hear a staff report and a recommendation regarding the petition.

President Mari Barke withdrew from the discussion due to a potential conflict of interest. Her husband, Jeff Barke – a doctor criticized last year for wielding a gun on a YouTube show and calling him more effective in the pandemic than wearing a mask – is chairman of the board administration of the OCCA.

Vice-Chairman Ken Williams shared his thoughts on the presentation.

“I believe that this charter [is] a very unique situation, ”he said. “I wish we had it in every school district. “

The Orange County Board of Education is expected to vote on the petition at a meeting on February 2. This decision is not subject to appeal.

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