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For the second time in as many years, a largely Somali charter school is being pushed to diversify.

School leaders have tried to draw new students in with advertisements and brochures. Despite those efforts, San Diego Unified staffers say Iftin Charter School is still 96 percent African American — a much higher share than the population in its City Heights neighborhood and San Diego Unified at large. It was formed by parents, many of them Somali refugees who were unhappy with local schools.

Charter schools, which are independently run and publicly funded, must get approval from school districts to start up and continue to operate. California law requires charters to meet a long list of conditions, including having a racial makeup that reflects their neighborhoods.

That’s why San Diego Unified has warned Iftin that it needs to diversify. School district staff wrote that Iftin needs a plan to recruit students from other racial and ethnic groups — and it needs to put money behind that plan. Failing to do that could put its existence in jeopardy.

This isn’t the first time Iftin has faced questions about its diversity: When the school sought to expand into a high school, San Diego Unified staff said the school board should turn it down because in its four years of existence, it had failed to diversify, with a vast majority of Somali American students.

Despite those concerns, the school board narrowly voted last year to let Iftin expand into a high school, noting that its test scores had grown overall. School board member Katherine Nakamura, who voted against it, said it would encourage racial and cultural isolation.

Her worries are the same today. The school board was supposed to vote Tuesday on whether to approve Iftin for another five years, but put off the decision for a month to let the school create a plan.

— EMILY ALPERT

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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