A charter school operating in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood has sued the San Francisco Unified School District after it tried to force the school to relocate nine miles away to Treasure Island.
KIPP Bay Area Public Schools, part of a chain of 242 charter schools across the country, filed the lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court against the district and Superintendent Vincent Matthews alleging they have violated a state law to provide sufficient accommodations to charter schools.
The relationship between the school district and the charter school nonprofit organization, which operates three schools in the Bayview District, has been strained since the beginning, when in 2017 the district’s Board of Education voted to oppose KIPP’s opening at Malcolm X Academy. The state Board of Education voted to reverse the denial.
Since 2018, KIPP Bayview Elementary has operated at the district’s Malcolm X Academy, which is where school officials wish to remain to educate a growing student body of 137 next fall. Enrollment for the 2019-20 year was 107 students. The school is expanding next year from a transitional kindergarten to second-grade school to add a third-grade class. There are plans to add a fourth-grade class in the subsequent year.
Instead of agreeing to that request, the school district offered KIPP a new space on Treasure Island, nine miles away, as was first reported by the San Francisco Examiner.
Maria Krauter, a KIPP spokesperson, said Monday that they were “shocked.” The lawsuit calls it a “bad faith offer.”
KIPP rejected it and the district subsequently offered to let them keep using Malcolm X Academy in six classrooms, which they have currently. But they argue they need 10 classrooms. The district had agreed to the charter school’s 10 classrooms when it planned the move to Treasure Island, the lawsuit said, but then “abruptly and illegally retracted” that determination when later saying they could remain at Malcolm X.
The lawsuit alleges the district has violated Proposition 39, a 2000 voter-approved state measure that sets provisions about how school districts must accommodate charter schools, first by trying to relocate KIPP to Treasure Island and then by denying the school the amount of classrooms needed for the number of students they plan to serve.
The lawsuit asks the court to compel the district to provide 10 classrooms at Malcolm X.
The school district declined to comment on the suit.
In Feburary, a school district official said they wanted to move the charter to Treasure Island to address impacts on Malcolm X, as previously reported by the Examiner.
“They would have plenty of space for their ancillary services and the squeeze would not be put on Malcolm X Academy to have to either stunt their growth or retrench and they would still be able to grow their program,” Mike Davis, director of charter schools for SFUSD, said at the time.
Krauter said “we believe there is plenty of room to share.” She said Macolm X at its maximum enrollment had 440 kids and now it’s “just a bit over 100.”
“There is a way to have a mutually beneficial shared campus,” she said. “They deserve a high-quality option in the neighborhood.”
There are strong opinions about charter schools.
Supervisor Shamann Walton was on the school board when he voted against KIPP and he continues to oppose the school at Malcolm X. He represents the Bayview on the Board of Supervisors.
“Obviously I hope that KIPP stops trying to take resources away from a community that needs all the support they can get for our students,” Walton said. “The blatant disregard for protecting precious resources, even during this crisis, is appalling.”
Krauter said, “This is not an us vs. them, and our students vs. their students.”
“Our students are SFUSD students. And our students are Bayview-Hunters Point residents,” she said.
Christy Neasley, who lives in the Bayview, said her adopted 6-year-old niece has attended the charter school since it began, when she enrolled her in transitional kindergarten two years ago.
“She is thriving so much in this school,” Neasley said.
She said she doesn’t understand why there has to be this conflict between the district and the charter school.
“I’m a little angry. But I’m more worried because I really want her to keep on with this path. I don’t want them to break this family up,” she said.
Neasley said she thought the district’s initial offer to send KIPP to Treasure Island was disingenuous and that no one would have sent their kids from the Bayview there, which would have taken about an hour by bus to get there.
“I thought it was an offer just for them to make the school close down,” she said.
Krauter called the lawsuit “a last resort.”