backpage editorial

Failing Grade

School board stops Seaside Charter expansion

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I wonder if Ronald J. Harnek, president of Seaside School Consortium Inc.’s governing board, will threaten to sue me like he did Duval County School Board Superintendent Diana Greene. Dr. Greene recently recommended that her school board not allow the Seaside Charter enterprise to expand. She cited Seaside’s error-filled application for expansion as well as its lack of diversity. The Seaside academy might be able to get the application going forward, but if you look at the school’s practices, it definitely looks like the lack of diversity is by design.

Superintendent Greene, along with a majority of the school board, voted to deny the Seaside Charter school from opening a third campus on Jacksonville’s Northside for a litany of reasons. The most glaring: Seaside administrators simply filled out the application incorrectly. In a perfect world, of course, the district should set a higher bar, but at least this is clear proof that Seaside is unfit to educate.

The reason for the application is equally troubling. Seaside administrators want to open a campus on the Northside to get around their diversity problem. Seaside, it turns out, is as white as they come. Their beaches campus is not very diverse and, to be honest, I don’t think that is completely their fault. If you live in a neighborhood that lacks diversity, your schools aren’t going to be super-diverse. That’s just the long and the short of it. It’s Seaside’s policies—seemingly designed to ensure the student body remains very white—that should concern us.

If the founders of Seaside Charter really cared about the kids that they allege the public school system has failed, then why did they set up in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in town?

Seaside segregates itself by putting requirements on parents and by eliminating services on which many families of color rely. For example, Seaside doesn’t provide lunch or transportation, and it requires parents to pay the school $250 for supplies (more is always appreciated, too). A district official, outraged by Seaside’s hypocrisy, told me, “Yeah, that’s not going to serve a disadvantaged or minority population at all.”

You might be saying, “But students are chosen by a lottery—if they apply, poor and minority kids have just as much chance of getting in as anybody else.” Well, friends, that may or may not be true. You see, charters are charged with doing their own lotteries and do so with no oversight from the district. So maybe. But who knows? A wise man once told me, it’ s better to show than tell; sadly, charters are under no obligation to show anyone anything.

What can Seaside’s registration form tell us about its ideal student body? No surprise, the document screens based on race and socioeconomic status. It asks if the student resides in low-rent housing and is a teen parent. It asks the name of last school attended, school type (public including charters, private, pre-K and home education). It asks for student residence information (who they live with, both parents, single parent, guardian).

Then it asks families to “check all that apply” from the following list: the student has been arrested or prosecuted for a violation of criminal statute resulting in a charge; the student has been expelled from school; the student has been involved with the juvenile justice system.

Finally, when parents and guardians finish the application, they are instructed to sign under penalty of perjury, which they point out is a felony. How many parents do you think stopped right there because they didn’t want to risk being prosecuted for a felony?

All of these questions can be used to weed out applicants that Seaside doesn’t want to admit. And does anybody think they haven’t?

Seaside has skirted the rules before. Last fall, school administrators hosted then-school board candidate Nick Howland at their fall fest and basically endorsed him. In case you didn’t know it, public schools—even nominal ones like Seaside—aren’t supposed to endorse candidates.

Given the facts above, it’s my personal opinion that Seaside represents all that is wrong with the charter-school system. It’s a way for entitled white families to get private-school treatment on the public dime.

District 2 has some of the best schools in not just Jacksonville, but all of Florida. If it was its own district, it would give even St. Johns schools a run for their money. If charter schools were created to save mostly poor and minority students from failing schools—that’s what they were originally and disingenuously sold as—then there is absolutely no reason for there to be any charters east of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Seaside Charter may be able to fix its application, but it seems like the real problem may be bigger than that.

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Guerrieri is a Duval County public school teacher.

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