Sunday, March 28, 2010

Open letter to Prof. Shaffer on Ánimo Justice - ¡Tenemos el Animo Pero No Justicia!

Green Dot promised us a quality education and a democratic school where our voice counts, so why is our school being shut down with no parent and student say?" — Animo Justice Parent

"Everything we do from now moving forward, will be to expose all of Green Dot's lies and everything they lied to us and to our parents." — Animo Justice Student

Stand by students, parents, and community — keep Animo Justice open, no more school closures!Ralph Shaffer is Professor Emeritus of History at Cal Poly Pomona. Prof. Shaffer has been writing the candidates for the State of California, Superintendent of Public Instruction trying desperately to get them to take action, or at the very least, a stand on Green Dot's monumental announcement to shutter Animo Justice. He is also trying to get the charter-voucher friendly press to write more honest stories on this front. In an effort to inform his inquiry and help him ask the most pointed questions possible, I sent him this open letter.

Prof. Shaffer:

Let me suggest any inquiry into Animo Justice take into consideration that it was the only school with sufficient ELL and Special Education resources, both in the Green Dot universe, and in that attendance boundary (Jefferson excepted). This is critical in understanding the gravity of the closure. All those I spoke to said Animo Justice had been a CMO "experiment" to prove that they could serve similar populations to public schools, while still paying astronomical salaries to their executives, and running schools in their trademark heavy handed top down fashion. It was going to serve as a bastion against corporate charter critics to say that they weren't "skimming," and could educate every child.

Sadly for the families and community Green Dot supposedly serves, the experiment effected Green Dot's profitability. Suddenly their much ballyhooed "kids centered agenda" was jettisoned for reasons solely tied to their bottom line — the hallmark of corporate CMO charters, their "raison d'être" so to speak. One would think that a CMO with such dismal Special Ed and ELL populations in the rest of their schools would find a way to keep Animo Justice going. As for Marco Petruzzi's assertion that Animo Justice was their worst performing school, another lie. That "distinction" belongs to Animo Watts II.

When Petruzzi's letter tells distraught parents that they will be able to transfer their children to Animo Ralph Bunche, he fails to mention the school doesn't have proper facilities for those ELL and Special Education students. He also failed to mention there aren't enough seats at Animo Ralph Bunche in general for all the students at Animo Justice. Parents and students found that out when they spoke to lesser Green Dot officials last week who held a informational meeting with the Animo Justice parents.

One of the student leaders, an Animo Justice Junior who led the march to Green Dot headquarters, said there were some Green Dot officials suggesting a return to public schools for students that wouldn't be able to attend Animo Ralph Bunche or commute to another Green Dot facility. This is unconscionable, but not unexpected by any of us that have followed the rise of CMOs and the charter-voucher industry.

Also unreported was the fact that Animo Justice teachers were told a different story than that contained in Petruzzi's "public" letter announcing the school closure. The Green Dot teachers who spoke to me at the community forum held Friday in South Central Los Angeles all told me that their jobs were up in the air. Suddenly AMU is exposed as the yellow union it is — there has been no attempt save their members jobs or dignity. All of the teachers I spoke to were exceptionally young, another feature of CMO style cost savings.

The energy and militancy of the Animo Justice families at Friday night's forum was something to behold. I was awed and humbled by people trying their best to give their children optimal opportunities. I was also warmly received by Green Dot students, parents, and teachers who not only enthusiastically applauded my speech, but many spoke to me after the event and several even obtained my contact information.

Noticeably absent from the meeting? Shirley Ford, Ben Austin, Gabe Rose, and all the other so-called "Parent Revolution" executives. Here was a forum specifically tailored to their mission statement, and they failed these families since they were not there. Clearly, their "parent empowerment and advocacy" begins with and ends with hostile takeovers and conversions of public schools to charters. The parents on Friday night needed the Green Dot founded, Ben Austin run advocacy group there to support them. LAPU/Parent Revolution, like Green Dot, left these Animo Justice parents and the community with nothing but empty rhetoric, outrageous lies, and broken promises.

Green Dot should be forced to keep the school open, or at the very least, pay LAUSD to transform it into a real public school that will serve the needs of its population. If corporate CMO charters want to abdicate their responsibility to educate every child, then there should be a heavy price for their executives and billionaire backers to pay. Animo Justice is proof positive that the dearth of laws managing charter operation have failed us, and that publicly funded institutions should not be exempted from public oversight and scrutiny. In addition to implementing oversight laws, the law should be changed where charter renewal petitions occur annually instead of every five years — it's the only way to avoid more tragedies like Animo Justice.

Robert D. Skeels


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