A Charter School Cheats, A School District Sleeps

“Existing law prohibits a pupil enrolled in school from being required to pay a fee, deposit, or other charge not specifically authorized by law.
- California AB 1575

The North Valley Military Institute (NVMI) is no stranger to the LAUSD’s Charter School Division (CSD). Just last November, the CSD recommended to the District’s Board that they should not renew the school’s charter. During the spring oversight visit, they failed the school in each of the four categories that they inspect, including an “unsatisfactory” rating for fiscal operations. Despite all of these red flags, the District still overlooked the fact that the school was “charging illegal summer school fees and unfairly compensating some students who have been working at the school because they could not afford them”.

According to NVMI’s website, 236 of its 670 students (35%) were notified that they “must attend summer school.” If they chose to fulfill this requirement at NVMI, then the cost was listed as “$50 per middle school class and $100 per high school class. The Robotics class costs $150.” Students or their parents could “work for the cost of summer school instead of paying cash. Students earn $5 per hour and parent earn $10 per hour for their service.”

As a spokesman from the California Department of Education told the Los Angeles Daily News, “a charter school cannot charge students for summer school programs due to a section of the state’s Education Code that prohibits a charter school from charging tuition.” Paying a wage below the minimum set by law also presents a problem. “The school also must adhere to the state’s child labor laws, which govern issues such as age restrictions and the need for work permits in many cases.

While the CSD’s Director has stated in the past that they provide oversight that is “proactive”, it appears that they did not act on this violation until after the information had been made available to the press. A Notice to Cure was not issued until June 26, 2018. Since the summer program was already under way, 125 students in the program already paid the illegal fees. The delay also means that 111 students were possibly dissuaded from attending a public school program because they could not afford the cost. This is a lost opportunity that can never be reclaimed by these children. Once again, the LAUSD has failed to protect the students that it is supposed to serve.

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Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.