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Indigenous charter school loses appeal to renew its license

Deepa Fernandes / KPCC

Principal, Marcos Aguilar, sits on the floor as Board members of the Los Angeles County Office of Education debate his school's appeal to have its charter license renewed.

Deepa Fernandes / KPCC

Parents and students flooded the September 10 LACOE board meeting hoping to be heard by board members.


An indigenous school in El Sereno again failed to get its charter license renewed Tuesday, when the Los Angeles County office of Education declined to act on the school's appeal of a prior rebuke by L.A. Unified. But it's not done fighting.

The Anahuacalmecac International Preparatory High School teaches in Spanish, English and the indigenous language Nahuatl. It operated under a charter with the Los Angeles Unified School District for five years. But in June, the district declined renew the license, citing the school's shaky finances at the time and it's test scores. The school appealed to the L.A. County Office of Education.

LACOE's superintendent also cited the high school's tests scores and past financial trouble in recommending to board members to deny its appeal.

The school’s API was 683 last year, well below the state's goal of 800 - but about in the middle of all schools in the state. It also graduated 100 percent of its 34-member senior class.

“Anahuacalmecac has 97% of college acceptance,” Erika Gutierrez, a teacher at the school, said during Tuesday's board meeting. “Why are we not looking at that data?”

Gutierrez addressed LACOE board members with her two sons, both students at the school, standing beside her.

It was part of a concerted two-day effort by school supporters to have their voices heard by the board.

Parents protested outside the agency’s offices in Downey on Monday. On Tuesday, supporters overwhelmed the board meeting room's capacity.

Marcos Aguilar, principal of Semillas - as the school is commonly called - said the appeals process was “anything but fair” and "rife with inconsistencies."

During Tuesday's meeting, board member Thomas Saenz questioned whether the school was held up to extraordinary scrutiny when LACOE staff pulled its federal 990 tax form or considered media reports. Staffers conceded that this was not an ordinary part of the process to which they had subjected other schools.

Board member Douglas Boyd said the major problem with the school's appeal was its inability to provide requested information - echoing a complaint by L.A. Unified officials who criticized the school for refusing to provide school officials' social security numbers for routine background checks.

“The problem is there is very little or no transparency outside the school," Boyd said.

Saenz pushed back, saying that with five years under its belt, he saw evidence enough of how the school performed and was run.

Another board member, Jose Calderon, rebutted the superintendent's criticisms of the school. He pointed out that while the school had a $650,000 deficit at the close of the school year, it secured a grant to cover it.

After a contentious, hours-long debate, board members voted 3-3 on the appeal. As a result, the agency will not act on the school's appeal. It was not a straight out denial, but the result was the same: the board will not give the school a charter license to operate.

School officials vowed to continue their appeal. The next step: The California Department of Education.

While the process continues, the school operates under the charter of its sister school. The high school students are attending class at that campus, a few blocks away.

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