The Sequoia Union High School District is less committed to the education of charter school students, treating them as “second-class citizens”, according to claims made by a Summit Preparatory High School parent.
Catherine Greer, parent of a Summit Prep student, has filed formal complaints with the school district and the California Department of Education concerning the district’s alleged lack of compliance with California health and facility regulations.
“I think this is a clear message that charter school students don’t matter,” Greer said of the districts suspected failings.
Greer’s concerns were sparked when her son tried out for the high school basketball team in the fall.
Her son, who has asthma, ran two miles down busy downtown Broadway Street as part of the try out.
“There was a grave concern,” Greer said. “You just want your child to be safe and all the children to be safe.”
This led to her personal investigation of California air quality regulations and policies on school facilities for charter school students as well as to find the agency accountable for her child’s safety.
She filed a 17-page complaint to the district in March.
“It became evident that our state has a lot of law out there,” she said. “A lot of agencies just let this fall through the cracks.”
According to regulations set by Proposition 39, passed in 2000, all school districts must provided “reasonably equivalent” school facilities for charter schools.
“There’s nothing equivalent about our schools in terms of air quality and square footage of space,” Greer said.
Greer said that Summit Prep students have frequently been kicked out of the Sequoia High School gym, shared by the school via a five-year facility agreement, to allow space for community sports groups.
The city has passed three local bond measures totaling $325 million in order to improve facilities at SUHSD schools, Greer said.
“Summit has no science lab, no library, no performance space and no kitchen,” Greer wrote in her complaint to the California Department of Education. “Most of these funds were spent on facilities improvements at the already-established large district campuses.”
The taxpayer’s money has been misspent, she said.
However, Summit Prep administrators disagree with Greer’s assessment.
Brian Johnson, principal at Summit Prep, has said the school and the district work hard each year to accommodate students.
“They’ve been very fair and very understanding,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the district has been accessible and communication between Summit Prep and the district is only improving.
“It’s a strong relationship, and greatly improved in the last few years,” Johnson said.
The principal said he is fully confident that the district is complying with state regulations.
Though facilities are not perfect, said Assistant Superintendent Enrique Navas, the district is committed to providing students with accessible facilities.
“The facilities are limited,” Navas said. “But we’re trying to do the best we can to accommodate everybody.”
Air quality standards mandated by the state of California are not being met by SUHSD, Greer said.
In her complaint to the CED, Greer said she believes that students and staff of Summit Prep are being exposed to unsafe levels of particulate matter.
Due to the school’s close proximity to Highway 101, which is also not in compliance with state law, diesel trucks, heavy traffic and surrounding former industrial sites are creating harmful air pollutants for students and staff, she said.
“State law prevents placement of school sites within 500 feet of a freeway, yet Summit Preparatory Charter High School is only 300 feet away from Highway 101,” she wrote. “These laws were written with the intent of protecting school children from health risks posed by pollution from heavy freeway traffic and other non-stationary sources.”
Further, Greer stated that no environmental impact report was conducted for the property currently used by Summit Prep. However, Greer said, an EIR issued by Stanford, 900 feet east of Summit Prep, found particulate matter as four times higher than the “threshold of significance” defined by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
When the district received Greer’s complaint, they issued an air quality test by KELLCO services Inc. in early April.
“The report speaks for itself,” Navas said.
The final report concluded that there were no significant indications of harmful air pollutants at Summit Prep.
Johnson said that he was glad the school checked into potential safety issues and experts concluded the school air to be safe.
“The health and safety of our students is our number one concern everyday,” he said.
As for the school’s placement near Highway 101, Navas said the building had already been a charter high school and “Summit Prep has accepted the building as fulfilling state obligations.”
Greer has concerns that the testing completed by KELLCO Services Inc. were defective and the air quality testing instruments were not calibrated.
“The bulk of the entire report rests on those canisters,” she said.
She spotted the air quality testing canisters on the test date and snapped a photo. At the time of the photo, the canister read 2 Hg. Yet, Greer said, that exact canister was reported as 20 Hg in the final report.
“Something is a mess with this data,” she said.
Greer also questions the need to have the final report be data that has been “reissued.”
“This is the second report,” Greer said. “The school district did not like what they saw in report number one.”
Greer also notes that she has found several errors in the report, such as the reports lack of diesel particulate matter tests.
“When I see all these red flags there’s something they’re trying to mask or hide,” she said. “Or they’re just incompetent.”
The CDE discussed Greer’s claims in a June 11 meeting. According to Greer, the CDE concluded that they were unsure if they were the agency responsible or had authority over the issues raised.
A major dilemma, Greer said, is finding an agency to take authority over the matter.
Navas and Greer have both stated that their conversations with one another have been filled with frustration.
“So far she’s come to a dead end, there’s nothing for her to claim,” Navas said. “I really am at a loss because we’re spending a lot of time trying to address this.”
Greer has seriously considered pulling her son from Summit Prep, although in many ways she believes Summit Prep is an exceptional school.
“This school in many ways is a good match for my son,” she said.
Greer said she would continue to search for an agency to be held accountable in order to ensure the safety of her son and all students and staff of Summit Prep.
“My hope is that my leaders seek to protect the children with due diligence,” she said.