To the shock of dozens of parents, will have to share its campus next year with a new charter school, the Capistrano Unified School District’s board of trustees decided Monday.
“I think they’ve made it very difficult for us to [peacefully coexist]," said Barcelona Hills mom Debbie Lackie after the unanimous decision. “I think they made up their minds before anyone got here tonight.”
students, who will range from kindergartners to eighth-graders, will occupy more than half of the elementary school campus in Mission Viejo. The trustees directed staffers to consider configurations that wouldn’t have Barcelona students surrounded on all sides by the Oxford program.
Parents at Barcelona first heard of the district’s plans to house Oxford, a new charter school the , at their campus during a PTA meeting in April. At the time, the proposal was to share space with Oxford’s kindergarten-through-fifth-grade program.
But last week, parents of 34 special-needs students received notice from the school district that they would have to change schools to accommodate Oxford’s middle-school program as well.
Parent Pat DeLorenzo said his third-grader, who suffers from a seizure disorder and is autistic, has already changed schools four times in four years.
“She’s a creature of routine. If Dad helps Mom fold laundry, that causes a meltdown in my house,” DeLorenzo said.
Twelve parents spoke to the board directly and urged them to keep searching for a different solution. They complained that district officials excluded their participation and broke promises that it would not displace a single student.
“There’s been a distinct lack of candor by the district,” said parent Michael Daugherty. To give Oxford students 13 of the school’s classrooms is a “ridiculously high” number that will turn the Barcelona kids into “second-class students in their own school.”
The ensuing discussion among trustees and the district staff was often punctuated by outbursts from the parents in the audience. When Trustee John Alpay asked if Barcelona would have enough space to accommodate the 450 Oxford students and all of Barcelona’s, Ron Lebs, the district’s deputy superintendent for business and support services said yes, but parents yelled, "No!"
“This is a meeting held in public, not a public meeting,” admonished Vice President Gary Pritchard, who facilitates the meetings.
Besides grouping Oxford’s classrooms together—even if that means moving Barcelona’s library—school board members said they were concerned that younger Barcelona children would have to share bathroom facilities with Oxford middle schoolers.
Jason Watts, director of educational services for Oxford, said he’s sure his school is flexible about the location of Oxford classrooms.
Superintendent Joseph Farley said some of the parent comments were unfair.
“We’ve been in negotiations with Oxford for literally six months. Requirements and plans changed day to day, week to week and month to month,” he said. “This has been a moving target for many, many months … Some of the commentary is not sensitive to the changing dynamics.”
Lebs cautioned the board that if it did not approve a facility for Oxford, which by law is permitted to use district facilities, Oxford could ultimately file a lawsuit against the district.
Protest from parents at Barcelona Hills wasn't the only demonstration of displeasure at Monday's meeting.
Parents from Ambuehl Elementary complained during the open-comments portion of the meeting that they don't like a plan released just last week that would have them .
"High school students should not be part of an elementary school," said mom Carrie Weeks. "It's really not acceptable."
Bruce Becker, a member of the school's site committee, said his group wasn't even notified. "Why do we have to do this very quickly? It just doesn't make sense," he said. "I really think better choices can be found elsewhere."
Because the subject was not a part of the regular agenda, board members could not take action.
In other news, the board:
- Approved a $12-million bid to build a theater at . Open since 1977, the school has never had an actual theater. Play productions and concerts are usually staged in an indoor amphitheater surrounded by classrooms, lockers and offices known as "the mall."
- Heard a report about the budget. It will use $2 million originally earmarked for maintenance projects to balance next year's budget.
- Heard a report about the new requirement to make sure parents know fees for academic and extracurricular activities are voluntary, ensuring a free education for every student.
- Approved the continuation of a pilot program that offers skateboarding as a PE class at .
- . He currently serves as a principal in Anaheim.
- Postponed a decision as to whether the district should pay for an amid allegations that the board violated the Brown Act.