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Parents and teachers at a small charter school in Chollas View are demanding that San Diego Unified launch an investigation of their school after the principal and new board members made a string of controversial decisions.
The Promise Charter School board changed dramatically last summer after some of its existing members, including the principal, voted to eject members and later added new ones.
Parents and teachers upset with the leaders allege that Principal Jose Orozco has intimidated parents who disagreed with him on everything from scheduling to staffing by barring them from campus and telling them to leave the school, and harassed their children by questioning them about their parents.
Fourth grade teacher Vicky Toscano said after one teacher was fired and others were told to reapply for their jobs, teachers have been afraid to question irregularities at the school, such as allegedly enrolling students who are too young for kindergarten. Teachers at the school have petitioned to form a union.
Orozco said the allegations of harassment are untrue and that the upset parents and teachers have resisted “anytime anyone tries to change anything at the school.” For instance, Orozco said after he introduced new rules about inappropriate touching of students, teachers overreacted and complained they couldn’t even look at kids. Other parents stepped forward to back the principal.
The upset parents and teachers are calling for San Diego Unified to choose a district representative to sit on the Promise Charter board, something that school districts can do under the law, monitor the school more closely and investigate their allegations. They say that some of the changes at the school, including altering its hiring policies, actually violate their charter, a founding document that sets out school rules.
The same demands were made by teachers and parents from Tubman, another charter that has been in turmoil. Tubman teachers recently joined the San Diego teachers union and have fought the firing of a teacher, alleging she was discriminated against as a labor leader.
The two charter schools share a board member and made common cause over their concerns.
After parents and teachers from the two schools spoke up at a San Diego Unified school board meeting on Tuesday night, school board President Richard Barrera asked Superintendent Bill Kowba to look into the concerns at both schools, saying that they were serious issues.
“Charter schools cannot be mini-dictatorships that exist on the dime of the public taxpayer,” Barrera said. “And we need to make sure that we guard against that.”
Charter board members are often chosen by other board members, not elected like a school district board. While some charters opt to have representatives who are chosen by the parents or teachers, voluntarily putting it into their own rules, it is not required by law. That means that charter boards can sometimes veer from what parents or staff want, and it can be hard to say who speaks for the school.
While Promise and Tubman are charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run by their own boards, the school district is supposed to provide oversight because it approved the schools in the first place. Charters can be shut down if they violate their rules or perform poorly.