The Ross Valley Charter School’s plans to move into the old St. Rita’s school campus in Fairfax should go a long way toward providing a salve for the controversy that has festered since the charter school opened at White Hill Middle School.
Though sharing of space between charter schools and traditional schools on a single campus has worked in some communities, the local controversy over the state-sponsored charter has bred an environment of contention and resentment.
The seeds of what has grown into bitter contention were sown when the charter’s multi-age program, or “MAP,” was a district program at Manor School in Fairfax. When MAP parents felt the district’s support for the long-standing Manor program was in danger of being dropped, they chose to pursue a charter school designation, which is allowed under state law.
The charter proposal was turned down by the Ross Valley School District and the Marin County school boards but approved by the state Board of Education.
The charter initially proposed moving into the mostly vacant Red Hill School site in San Anselmo, but the district countered, concluding that opening at White Hill was a more affordable option.
That strategy has helped fuel an ongoing conflict that the district’s leadership has done little to resolve.
Public protests and demonstrations — and the posting of lawn signs opposing the charter — have been part of the charter’s initial existence.
Many parents have complained about campus changes at White Hill that were necessary to accommodate the charter. The charter’s leadership has complained and even filed a lawsuit because it felt it wasn’t getting the number of school rooms it argued the district was obligated to provide.
That the lawsuit meant the school district had to spend local dollars defending itself did not improve matters.
The fight has raised questions about the state’s charter school program and its educational and fiscal ramifications on educational opportunities for students in traditional programs. State support for charter schools was a central issue in the 2018 race for state superintendent of public instruction.
The outcome was the election of Tony Thurmond, who advocated charter school reforms. He won by a razor’s edge — with 50.9 percent of the vote — reflecting the statewide public divide over this important issue.
Moving Ross Valley Charter is not going to bridge that gap. But it could move the program away from being the target of campaigns and demonstrations, which are easily witnessed by young students.
Adults who think that youngsters — both White Hill and Ross Valley Charter students — have been oblivious to the conflict and strain are in denial.
Moving the school will be a positive measure for students at both schools.
The district should support the program’s relocation and the restoration of classroom space at White Hill.
It is time to focus on constructive measures that benefit children in both programs rather than a strategy that fueled community division.
There likely is a lot of political wrestling that is going to take place in Sacramento over charter schools in the coming months and years. But locally, the possible solution to the Ross Valley conflict is worth pursuing.
That’s what moving the Ross Valley Charter School from White Hill to the old St. Rita’s campus appears to promise.