Fernando Rivera Middle School students were denied from a tutoring program. (Brendan Bartholomew/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Daly City after-school tutoring service turns away students

Some parents in Daly City were outraged last week after dozens of middle school students were turned away from a tutoring program, leaving some without adult supervision.

Several Fernando Rivera Intermediate School students after school on Sept. 29 were denied admittance to the school’s multiuse room, where they normally participated in the AACE tutoring program while waiting for their parents to get off work.

AACE is a tutoring service run by the Japanese Community Youth Council, which operates the program free of charge for students at the campus after class hours.

An AACE spokesperson said the drop-in tutoring service is not an “after-school program.” But many Fernando Rivera parents had come to rely on it to provide a safe place for their kids to wait for them.

No adult supervision is provided by the school after 3:10 p.m., according to the campus’ website.

According to some accounts, a few students who were turned back used their cell phones to call parents and inform them of the situation. Those who lacked phones may have simply walked home.

Principal Dina Conti led up to 15 students to the school’s library and supervised them there until their parents arrived. There’s not widespread agreement on the total number of students turned away from the tutoring program. Some parents on social media said the number was around 25.

Conti emailed parents Sept. 29-30 to address the situation, but her messages seemed to create more questions than answers. An anonymous community member launched a Facebook page condemning the school’s handling of the incident.

Jefferson Elementary School District Superintendent Bernie Vidales said there appeared to have been a miscommunication between Conti and the AACE program’s manager. Conti had contacted the program manager earlier on Sept. 29 to say AACE’s on-site staff was too small to safely supervise the number of students who participated, Vidales said.

Up to 100 students sometimes filled the multiuse room, Vidales noted, and Conti had requested that AACE restrict participation to no more than 60 students, in order to maintain a safe ratio of one tutor per 20 students.

A misunderstanding occurred, Vidales said, when the AACE manager interpreted Conti’s request as a demand for immediate action, and responded by implementing the new 60-student limit that same day.

Japanese Community Youth Council Executive Director Jon Osaki disagreed with Vidales’ assessment. AACE is a project of Osaki’s organization, and he claimed there was no misunderstanding.

“We got a call informing us there were too many students in the program and it had to be cut down immediately,” Osaki said. “The principal told our staff to count heads and shut the doors when it reached 60.”

Osaki added that members of his organization were “horrified” by what had occurred. He said the Japanese Community Youth Council might have to reevaluate its relationship with the school if the organization winds up being scapegoated.

AACE originally stood for Asian-American Communities for Education, Osaki said, which receives funding from the United States Department of Education, now just goes by its acronym, because it has come to serve students from all backgrounds.

Vidales said he values AACE’s presence on campus, partly because Fernando Rivera does not serve enough low-income families to qualify for a Proposition 49-funded after-school program.

The district will be meeting with AACE management, Vidales said, and some parents have expressed their interest in helping to start after-school programs.

Regarding the Sept. 29 incident, Vidales was emphatic, saying, “This will never happen again.”

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