Brushing off advice from San Diego Unified staffers, the school board decided Tuesday night to allow a largely Somali charter school to grow from a K-8 into a high school, concluding that its disproportionate African-American student population was not a good reason to prevent its expansion.

“If we deny this opportunity … we’re denying kids a path to success,” said school board member Richard Barrera, who voted to allow Iftin Charter School, which is located in City Heights, to expand. The 3-2 vote paved the way for an intended August 2010 opening of the high school.

Although they had no objections to its educational program, staffers had advised the school board to bar Iftin from expanding because it was likely to be racially isolated — not reflecting the demographics of its neighborhood or the school district at large. Though enrollment is open to all students, Iftin’s student body has been largely Somali. The school’s teachers, students and parents pleaded for a chance to expand on their success, citing test scores that jumped considerably at the tiny school last year.

“Iftin is not intended for a particular ethnic group — rather it is for all races,” said board member Bashir Hassan, who said the school would strive to publicize itself and recruit more students. He concluded, “Regardless of the skin color or whether the last name is Mohammed or Smith, every child has a right to a quality education. Your responsibility is to vote for the best interests of the students.”

Among the few opponents of the Iftin school was an unlikely one: Maslah Yussuf, who identified himself as one of the original founders of Iftin. Yussuf said the school would be isolated and vaguely alleged a “conflict of interest” at the school. Two board members, Katherine Nakamura and John de Beck, agreed with Yussuf’s concerns about encouraging racial isolation by approving the high school and voting against the charter plans.

“I don’t think it’s good for America to set up situations where people are isolated racially,” de Beck said.


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