Updated after the jump: The Weekly gives a play-by-play of a long, passionate night — with testimonies from nearby charter schools, a few crazies and a handful of parents who say they were duped into signing the “Parent Trick-er” petition. Originally posted at 7:15 p.m.
Gathered in the Church of the Redeemer in Compton earlier today, a handful of McKinley Elementary School parents gave heartfelt anecdotes of what Parent Revolution — the non-profit org that backs them — is calling “lies and intimidation” by teachers at McKinley.
The speakers were among the 61 percent of McKinley parents who chose to take advantage of California's new Parent Trigger law this month, petitioning that the school be seized from the low-performing Compton Unified School District and turned into a charter school.
Marlene Romero, in particular, told a story about her son Ivan…
… who came home from school echoing his teacher, Victor Tellez. He said Tellez had told him charter schools were “bad and only wanted our money,” and would not permit many of his classmates, including special-ed students, to attend.
Now, we're reporting live from the CUSD board meeting, packed with press and hundreds of angry parents — many of whom say they were tricked into signing the Parent Trigger petition without understanding its gravity.
Above all, the air is buzzing with confusion.
It seems everyone here has a contradicting theory on what, exactly, the new Celerity Educational Group charter school would mean for their children.
One mother, Cynthia Martinez (pictured in this Los Angeles Times piece), says she “read in an article” that her three-year-old wouldn't necessarily be accepted into the reformed school, seeing as the child doesn't attend McKinley yet. In addition, she says Parent Revolution volunteers told her the petition was only asking for campus beautification. [Read LA Weekly's account of the signature-gathering process.]
Another young man at the meeting tells us “he was told” the kids would be screened for grades and good behavior before Celerity would accept them.
“You can't judge kids out here by their behavior,” he says. “We're taught to do anything to survive.”
Vielka McFarlane, founder of Celerity, told the Weekly that her group does plan to conduct assessments of each child, but only to better understand their needs. She said the assessments will not prevent certain children from attending the school.
California Education Code for the Parent Trigger law mandates that the charter school serve the same Compton population as McKinley, with no new regulations:
(d) A charter school established by a parent empowerment petition shall comply with the admission requirements for an existing public school converting partially or entirely to a charter school specified in Education Code section 47605(d)(1) and shall admit all pupils who reside within the former attendance area of the subject public school.
At the church, earlier today, Parent Revolution organizers proudly revealed the YouTube activity of current McKinley teacher Tellez, or vtellez2001. Most telling, they claim, are comments he made on a video entitled “Parents at McKinley Elementary in Compton fight for change.”
His comments include:
“Ms. Hernandez, you will regret having supported Celerity when your child is rejected by them.”
“How dare these parents complain about the school and asking for this power. The school has spent the last 6 years trying to recruit parents to help out at the school and none of the parents in this video ever volunteered or helped in any way. … but on Halloween all parents show up.”
“Parents don't know that Celerity can actually discriminate against students. If your child is in Special Ed, your child will be rejected.”
To further demonstrate Tellez' character, Parent Revolution also cited this pro-Proposition 8 video he made, in which the teacher degrades homosexuals and the fight to legalize gay marriage.
After the press conference was over, the pro-Trigger crowd “marched” (aka, drove 10 minutes east) to the Compton Unified headquarters, where Ivan's mother, Marlene Romero — and only she — was allowed to deliver the Compton superintendent the four “lies and intimidation” reports, along with four new parent signatures to add to the 261 already on the Trigger petition.
A few hours later, here we are, cramped into a stuffy board room of at least 200, maybe 300 people. School officials have just returned from an hour-long closed session. (Meanwhile, a candlelight vigil is taking place on the McKinley Elementary lawn.)
We'll let you know what parents/teachers/community members are saying as soon as the board allows them to speak. Stay tuned.
Update, 8 p.m.: After a half-hour presentation on the potential merging of Roosevelt Elementary and McKinley Elementary — if the petition doesn't go through, of course — everyone's getting antsy.
Admin, teachers, parents and students from another Los Angeles charter school — the Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists — have showed up in mass to sing the praises of charter schools in general. “The teachers there are great — everybody's great,” says one mother. WAYS grandmother Ethel Nathaniel says, “The school is really beautiful; it's wonderful.”
“We don't want charter school! We don't want charter school!” a row of mothers chant.
“Charter schools are viruses!” shouts another.
Then a small girl steps up to the mic. Eliza, a student at WAYS, says she learned the parts of speech by making them into a rap at her charter school. “Barack Obama is a person/ Wisdom Academy is a place,” she flows. Crafty girl; President Obama happens to support the McKinley charter reform.
Eliza gets a round of applause.
Update, 8:40 p.m.: Reps from more charter schools and other irrelevant players wanting to hear themselves talk while the rest of our toes fall asleep have been hogging all the mic time.
One mother, wearing headphones that translate the meeting into Spanish, shouts at the speakers to hurry up — “Tienen que ir mañana a la escuela los niños!” she says (some children here have to go school tomorrow).
More and more, the crowd reveals itself as anti-Parent Trigger. The only speakers who get a positive reaction are the ones defending CUSD. One mom goes so far as to say she's willing to go on a hunger strike until the petition is revoked, because her kid is special-ed and won't be admitted into the charter.
Another man rouses parents: “How dare they come here and say not the whole truth? If we look at charter schools, we know what they are about. They are about the dollar.”
Another: “You will not replace us! You will not call us refugees!” To which the crowd chants, “COMPTON! COMPTON! COMPTON!” Someone waves an “I [Heart] Compton” shirt above his head.
It seems the concept of a charter school has now become the antithesis of hometown pride.
Update, 9:40 p.m.: One mother, who rushes out the side door before we can ask her name, says she was approached at her job twice and forced to sign the petition, y “yo no quise fimar” (I didn't want to sign). Parent Kirk Douglas Brown says he signed the petition, but now wants to publicly revoke his signature.
A strong localized defense begins to arise, based on the sentiment that “outside interests” like Parent Revolution, Celerity Educational Group and even L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are coming in and “telling us what to do with our city.”
“The revolution did not start in Compton, but it will stop in Compton,” says parent John Trammel, to an eruption of support from the crowd. He later adds that he is also the chair of CUSD's District Advisory Board.
By the end of the night, lines have been drawn. There's a new civil war working against the betterment of McKinley Elementary: Celerity parents versus CUSD parents. And as long as they're both preaching to their own choirs, this is going to be one long, painful board meeting of a battle over what's best for the children.