Angelica Lopez Moyes is amazed that her 1st-grade son can speak Mandarin. But she is concerned that his dual-language immersion program at Castelar Street Elementary School could be jeopardized if a charter is co-located on the campus.
Castelar, founded in 1882 and the second-oldest school in Los Angeles, has 570 students and is at about 75 percent capacity. Under Proposition 39, passed in 2000, the remaining space can be given to a charter.
Some of the rooms at the Chinatown school identified for charter use include two science labs and a room used for special education students. The parents at Castelar have gathered more than 2,400 signatures in a petition and lobbied to keep those classrooms from being shared.
“I have nothing against charter schools, and I don’t have a problem with sharing space that we don’t need, but there is a problem in this district with the process of designating an under-utilized classroom and allowing a charter school to take it over for their use,” Moyes said. “We have poor students who do not have access to computers, and taking over our labs will hurt the school and affect our future programs.”
The district deems classrooms that aren’t assigned to a specific full-time teacher as under-utilized space and therefore eligible for Prop. 39 charter use. The dual-language program wants to expand, and has the demand for it, but needs qualified teachers who can also speak Mandarin.
Martin Wong, who started an online petition, said, “If children from the charter school want to attend Castelar, they should come. We have awesome kids, excellent teachers, and that amazing Mandarin dual-language program which actually needs the extra space to grow.”
Wong and his wife Wendy don’t consider themselves activists, but they grew up in the neighborhood near downtown LA where they ate dim sum with their families and went to see cool punk bands. Their daughter Eloise has thrived at the school, and they said they were shocked by the “insane idea to have a charter school occupy the unused classrooms at our daughter’s campus. Most of the space is utilized by Chinatown children for music, art, science and P.E. Two schools on one campus would be a logistical nightmare, as well as an unhealthy environment in which the school and students on either side would be in constant measurement and competition against each other.”
Prop. 39 requires school districts to make “reasonably equivalent” facilities available to charter schools upon request. In past years, the California Charter Schools Association has had to sue LA Unified to comply with the state law. That has led the district to determine that essentially if the classroom is not assigned to a full-time teacher, it is considered under-utilized. CCSA continues to closely monitor LA Unified’s use of Prop. 39 to make sure it is fair and equitable toward charter schools.
Castelar is one of three LA Unified schools offering a Mandarin-immersion dual-language program. It has a 50-student waiting list but not enough qualified teachers for the classes, which are also taught in Chinese. Other classrooms are used for art, dance and P.E. programs.