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I just got off the phone with Lisa Berlanga, the regional director for the California Charter Schools Association. I asked her how the group would respond if San Diego Unified denies the expansion of Iftin Charter School.

The K-8 school in City Heights wants to add a high school, but district staffers are recommending that the school board turn it down because the new school would likely be largely Somali-American. That would encourage racial isolation, staffers wrote in a report for the school board. It is not the first time this issue has arisen: Last year trustees asked a group that was proposing a Hawaiian-focused charter school, Pacific American Academy, to rewrite its plans because they believed it would be “ethnically isolated.”

Berlanga said that while Pacific American had cooperated and redrawn its curriculum to focus less on Hawaiian culture, Iftin should not be stopped from expanding because though its student body is largely Somali, other students are not prohibited from enrolling.

“Nothing prohibits them from focusing their curriculum on a particular ethnic group, as long as you’re not saying, ‘Only Hispanic kids can enroll here,’” Berlanga said. “Anyone can decide to go there that wants to. The charter doesn’t say, ‘We’re only going to support Somali students or enroll Somali students.’”

If the school board denies the petition, Iftin could opt to appeal the decision to the San Diego County Office of Education. San Diego Unified will take up the issue of whether Iftin can expand at the school board meeting Tuesday.

EMILY ALPERT

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