By Aleksandr Sharfman in The Pearl Post – the student newspaper of Daniel Pearl Magnet High School, Center for Journalism and Communications, – from MYHSJ.org – My High School Journalism
Sunday, August 8, 2010 - 10:21:30 PM -- Tensions are still felt on the campus and in the courtroom a year after the separation of Birmingham Community Charter High School (BCCHS) and Daniel Pearl Magnet High School (DPMHS).
Magnet complaints of harassment by charter personnel, the refusal to honor space agreements in combination with charter claims to magnet classrooms have all contributed to the strained relationship between the two schools which has ultimately resulted in lawsuits being filed.
Charter Petition Deemed Legal
The lawsuit was dismissed on June 14, 2010, when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that the BHS petition to become charter stood as a viable agreement for BCCHS to separate from LAUSD. This decision came after almost a year of litigation between former Birmingham High School teachers as the plaintiffs and the BCCHS as the defendant.
On July 1, 2009, the Birmingham High School (BHS) faculty and administration received approval to become a charter school, which would become effective at the start of the 2009-2010 school year. This decision began a series of events whose aftermath is still being felt today.
History Behind the Conversion
This history that has built up to this strained relationship has been ongoing since last year when the magnet as well as several Birmingham teachers opposed the conversion. These Birmingham teachers fought to postpone the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education’s approval of the charter in an Aug. 24, 2009, lawsuit claiming that the tactics the charter employed to gain the necessary teacher support was illegal.
Although the lawsuit to reverse the charter conversion was dismissed in Superior Court, six of the Birmingham teachers who left after the petition approval and two outside supporters filed a separate lawsuit against the misconduct they felt by the BCCHS governing body, Principal Marsha Coates and the BCCHS entity. Accusations against the governing body included but were not limited to libel, discrimination in employment, retaliation in employment and violation of civil rights. This court case, which was filed in the Fall 2009, is still ongoing.
Coates was unavailable to comment after being approached May 21, 24, 25, 26 and June 4, 2010; interviews were also scheduled for May 24, 26, and the first week of June. On May 26 there was a half-hour interview conducted where Coates said that the “(plaintiffs) made up a lot of things in court.” Coates declined to comment more on the lawsuit.
BCCHS wanted to become a charter to explore its options and have more freedom from the district over how to run its school and allocate funds. DPMHS was afraid that if they stayed with the charter the same district rules that once limited BHS power would no longer apply. After the conversion, suspicions remained between the two schools and continued into the 2009-2010 school year.
As the pilot year began for both schools, the contents of Proposition 39 became a large issue in the legal fights over space and facilities between DPMHS and BCCHS. Prop 39 states that districts are required to give charter schools space because the charter schools are independently funded and therefore need space and facilities to operate.
This set the battleground for the new legal clashes over land.
“They’re afraid if they give up something now (facilities for use), they will give it up permanently,” said DPMHS Principal Janet Kiddoo in regards to the joint use of facilities.
These back and forth accusations of wrongdoing have transcended from the formal world of courtrooms and faculty meetings, to the world of schoolyard politics; from adults arguing with adults, to adults including students to promote their own agendas. Last year there were reports of coaches who wanted to go charter asking their players to register just in case, making them sign out of the magnet and unknowingly joining the charter.
The day after space negotiations between the charter and magnet, May 13, the district gave the magnet approval to move campuses. This move has given hope to both parties in resolving tensions by better separating the campuses. Kiddoo is optimistic that the magnet’s prospective move to the West Valley Special Education Center could solve several problems including bell schedule differences, parking issues and harassment.
Students Caught In The Middle
As the 2009-2010 school year started, the clashes between DPMHS students and BCCHS faculty became more commonplace on a daily basis. DPMHS students were being caught up in tardy sweeps held by BCCHS, even though the DPMHS bell schedule gave the students two minutes after the BCCHS bell to get to class. The BCCHS bell schedules have been changed repeatedly throughout the school year making it impossible for the magnet to synchronize their bells.
This dispute escalated to students being told that they were not allowed to sit on the new blue benches and tables that were owned by BCCHS between the F and G buildings despite charter students being allowed on magnet land to talk with their friends. There was also the issue of students being told that they could not park at the Victory Boulevard parking lot they were originally assigned to due to traffic issues. One of the biggest incidents of the school year came after sophomore Arsen Sevoian was held in a BCCHS tardy sweep and prevented from going to the magnet to take his Advanced Placement World History test on May 13.
“When I got to the Victory lot it was like 7:59. I knew I was kind of late, but it was only by a minute and Derry pulled me back. He said it doesn’t matter, you’re on our (BCCHS) campus and you’re late,” said Sevoian.
This has not been the only case where the charter forced magnet students into tardy sweeps. Some students have taken the situation complacently and waited for magnet Campus Aide Mitch Cannon to pick them up while others have grown tired of being held back by a school they don’t even go to.
“I didn’t think it was necessary to wait 10 minutes or however long for somebody to walk me 20 feet to the magnet office when I can walk there myself…He (the security guard) followed me all the way from the Victory lot to the magnet office as if he thought I was going somewhere else. He didn’t even ask for my ID,” senior Alyssa Washington said.
With ongoing tensions regarding the use of facilities and charter misconduct, the relationship of BCCHS and DPMHS a year after the separation is rocky, at best.
“The only thing I can’t get over is when adults involve students. It does bother me that two groups of people on a campus can be so unforgiving or intolerant,” said Kiddoo.