When the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Charter School Division recommended that the school board deny the North Valley Military Institute’s (NVMI) charter renewal in 2017, they cited the school’s requirement that “[a]ll students enrolling in NVMI must successfully complete an Entrance Camp….” as one of the reasons. The district bureaucrats found that this requirement amounted to “a conditional admission practice” and, therefore, violated the provisions of “the law requiring charter schools to admit all who wish to attend.”
Since 2011, Granada Hills Charter High School has included a requirement that all students attend a “Summer Transition Academy (STA) as a graduation requirement for all students.” The school’s enrollment documents state that “New students programmed into the 2019 STA session who do not report to or complete the STA will receive a grade of F”. Unlike NVMI, this requirement did not prevent the Charter School Division from recommending to the school board that they should approve the renewal of Granada’s charter when it came before them last year.
When asked why NVMI’s requirement was seen as a violation while Granada’s was not, the Charter School Division replied that Granada’s program “is not a condition of enrollment but is a requirement for graduation.” This is a distinction without a difference as the ultimate goal of attending high school is to receive a diploma. Therefore, admission to the school is meaningless if “students who chose not to attend the STA, will not participate in the GHC ceremony or earn a GHC diploma unless an approved substitute is completed in Senior Boot Camp following the expected graduation date.”
This policy provides an extreme hardship for families relying on their student to watch younger children during the summer break or for students who must work a summer job to help with family expenses or to save for college. The STA is also scheduled to begin in the same week as Independence Day, a time when many families schedule their family vacations. Given these hardships, it is Granada’s responsibility to show that this program is vital to meet its goal of increasing student achievement. Otherwise, the school gives credence to the accusation that STA is designed to ensure that only students whose families are highly motivated will attend their school.
According to Brian Bauer, Granada’s Executive Director, “the program, by design, aids in the difficult transition between middle school and high school, familiarizing and exposing the students to the new rigors ahead, setting expectations and goals for success, and introducing the student to the technology and skills the students will need to master as they enter the next phase of their educational development.” However, the necessity of the program is called into question when Bauer states that “the class is traditionally taken in advance of the student’s first regular school year.” However, students who appeal to the school can be subjectively excused if they explain “extenuating circumstances” to a committee. “Students with a granted appeal will have to complete STA the following summer.”
What Granada does not explain is how a “transition” program is of any value to a student who has already spent a year at the school. The student has already made the difficult transition between middle school and high school, is already familiar with the rigors of the school, should have already set expectations and goals for success and was introduced to the technology and skills needed for their classes. Yet Granada will still require students who have already successfully transitioned into the school to attend the Summer Transition Academy if they want to graduate. Students in this position will, therefore, sit in classrooms not to improve their chances of academic success but to prove that they are willing to satisfy the requirement of giving up three weeks of their summer to graduate.
As a conversion charter, Granada is supposed to serve all neighborhood students, not just those who are highly motivated. However, by making the STA mandatory they have found a way to screen students by only serving those who have the ability or will to participate in the program. Instead of parents choosing a school, this publicly funded private school is choosing their students. They are not providing more choices for the students they are supposed to serve, they are eliminating the option of a neighborhood school.