A proposed charter school that exposes children to the Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander cultures was met with some skepticism on the San Diego Unified school board Tuesday night.

Charter schools are run independently with public funding, and typically must be approved by a school district. The proposed school, Pacific American Academy Charter School, would teach students about Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander cultures though its membership would be open to all races, as required by law. Founders anticipate that more than three-fourths of its students would be Latino.

“You might be wondering what on earth Hawaiian culture can do for these students,” said charter supporter Joni Halpern of the Supportive Parents Information Network, an all-volunteer organization in San Diego. “… There is something about this culture … that is not tinted by the history of racism.” She called it “the beauty of a generous culture.”

But school board member Katherine Nakamura, a proponent of charter schools and a former member of the Union of Pan Asian Communities board, said she was “finished” with charter schools that are “based largely on ethnic identity.”

“We have had too many schools that are ethnically isolated and suggest an ethnically isolated path,” Nakamura said, adding that the program did not seem to be research-based. San Diego Unified has previously approved charter schools that focus on African culture, Mexican heritage, Arabic and German language, though Nakamura said she felt the latter — Albert Einstein Academy — was really about language, not ethnicity.

Margaret Sanborn, student services coordinator at Springfield College and the proposed director of the school, said the Pacific American board would meet tonight to discuss how to respond to the concerns, and declined to give any comment until the whole board had met.

Pacific American Academy Charter School was one of two proposed charter schools presented to the school board Tuesday night: The other, Gompers Preparatory Academy, is a high school that expands on Gompers Charter Middle School, which has attracted national attention for its orderly environment and college focus.


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