Several charter schools in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties are being accused by the Southern California branch of the ACLU of having illegal policies that force parents to volunteer their time, as well as accusations of problems with economic and racial diversity.
NOTE: This transcript is from an interview that was edited for time purposes.
Randol White: So, let's start with the issue of forcing parents to volunteer time. How does that go against state or federal law and which local schools does the ACLU point a finger at?
Chris McGuinness: Essentially charter schools are usually set up by private groups, but they still are essentially public schools because they take public funding, and under the California Constitution and under our charter school laws all kids have an equal access to an education, which means they can't be turned away for certain reasons. And so, basically what the ACLU is saying in this report is that some of these policies, because they set certain requirements for parents to volunteer, that it may cause parents or guardians to not even bother to apply to get into these charter schools.
Randol: Like parents who may work two or three jobs and just don't have the time to volunteer.
Chris: Yeah, they also note foster parents or perhaps if you're grandparents who are guardians of a grandchild, that may not have the ability to do that.
Randol: So, because it gets the public school money, needs to follow the same equal-access rules.
Chris: Exactly. And the two specific schools here in SLO County are the Bellevue-Santa Fe Charter School which is located in San Luis Obispo, and the Almond Acres Charter Academy which is located in San Miguel.
Randol: And we should mention that your piece took a look at San Luis Obispo County schools, being a San Luis Obispo paper, but in Santa Barbara County, Peabody Charter and also Santa Ynez Valley Charter were accused of this same parent volunteering issue. You reached out to the schools and the districts for comment in San Luis Obispo County, did you get any response?
Chris: I did. After the piece ran, I did get a response from the Bellevue-Santa Fe Charter School. They're standing by their policy essentially. They did say that they are reviewing the literature and the policies on their site and are looking at possibly clarifying the language to say specifically that it is not required.
Randol: And how about the other school?
Chris: Almond Acres, they did not get back to me from the school specifically, but I did talk to the San Miguel Joint Union School District. They told me that in 2014, during some committee hearings on another matter, that a parent did bring Almond Acres Charter volunteer policies up as a concern. They said that they looked at these policies and that they had them changed, but from what I saw on the website, they are still pretty explicit in their requirements.
Randol: Now Chris, this is all in print, does the ACLU have any proof that it's happening?
Chris: The report is only going off of the written policies that they were able to pull from the websites.
Randol: Now your new piece deals with diversity charges, what is the ACLU saying here?
Chris: Well the ACLU doesn't specifically address diversity in this current report. What they do say is that these policies, as well as some of the other policies they touched on, that they will freeze out certain groups of students. So, what I did is after looking at that, is I went and pulled data on the racial/socioeconomic and English-language learner numbers of these two charters schools and compared them to the districts that they're in as a whole to see if there were any gaps there.
Randol: And did you find any?
Chris: Yeah. In both of these charter schools, the diversity — both in terms of race and of socioeconomics — doesn't really seem to match up to the district as a whole.