PHOTO: Educators and parents from four schools in the Valley pack Magnolia charters’ board room to protest proposed co-location.

Four schools in the Valley are celebrating the power of a united front, after educators and parents banded together and fought off co-location by an outside charter operator.

In January, Portola Middle School, Lorne Elementary, Sunny Brae Elementary, and Shirley Avenue Elementary were informed that LAUSD had offered space at their campuses to Magnolia charters.

With no time to lose, educators at the four schools formed an organizing committee. Chapter Chairs quickly ID’d educator and parent leaders to be a part of the committee, and the group started strategizing on the collective fight. Educators spoke to parents before and after school by phone and in person, held meetings to inform parents of the possible co-location and its negative impact, and circulated petitions calling for a stop to the co-location. 

Their first action was to show up at the January 30 school board meeting where the board was discussing the new policy to limit co-location at LAUSD campuses. Speakers made it clear what was at stake if an outside charter took valuable space on campus.

The second action was a bold takeover of the Magnolia board of directors meeting on February 12. More than 50 educators and parents from the four schools gathered in the Valley and carpooled to Little Tokyo to testify to the Magnolia board. Ringing the meeting room, educators and parents seized the public comment section to speak passionately for an hour and a half about the damage co-location would do to school programs.

“It was an incredibly powerful moment to speak to the Magnolia board,” said Sunny Brae Chapter Chair Christy Moore. “Teachers and parents were speaking from their hearts, asking the board members as parents and educators to do the right thing and find another school where they would not be taking resources away from our students. When we left, we let them know in no uncertain terms that we would be back and that we would never stop fighting for our students.”

Two days later, Magnolia charter company informed LAUSD that they would not be co-locating at any of the four schools.

The Valley schools’ victory aligns with a major win at the school board last week, when the board narrowly approved a resolution limiting co-location on LAUSD campuses — a dramatic policy shift won by UTLA educators, Reclaim Our Schools LA, students, and families.

“The next steps for Sunny Brae are to make sure we re-elect Scott Schmerelson to the LAUSD board,” Moore said. “When I spoke before the board, I felt heard by some board members while other board members turned their chairs around and did not listen to what we said. You could definitely tell which LAUSD board members were supportive and which were not. It is vitally important that we have board members that believe as we do that co-location is absolutely unacceptable.”

Fighting against co-location traditionally has been an uphill battle. For years the district has been mislabeling classrooms and program set-asides as “empty,” giving away robotics rooms, science labs, computer labs, music rooms, and more to co-locating charter companies without any basis in the Proposition 39 state law, but rather the district’s own convoluted policy.

Portola Middle School, Lorne Elementary, Sunny Brae Elementary, and Shirley Avenue Elementary showed the power of a united front. Now, with the change in LAUSD policy, it’s a new day in the fight to protect neighborhood school students from the harm caused by co-location and the deeply flawed state law that created it.

“We are all on notice that this could happen again,” Lorne Elementary Chapter Chair Melodie Bitter said. “If it does, we will be out larger and stronger. Everyone is ready to fight to protect our school again.”