I see that you are scheduled to appear at the Del Rey Residents Association meeting tonight. The agenda item states: "Discussion of ICEF Charter School grades K-2 co-location with Stoner Avenue Elementary School for the 2015-2016 academic year. ICEF’s Executive Director Kristen Buczek wants to know what can be done to avoid the problems that came up in connection with the Citizens of the World colocation at Stoner in 2013-2014."
There is one simple solution to avoid the problems created by a co-location: Dont' co-locate.
Unfortunately, since ICEF has chosen to co-locate there is no way to avoid the problems that will occur.
This co-location has been a bad idea from the start and I let you know that right away. The day after the Stoner community received notice of the co-location, I emailed you and all ICEF administration and board members to let them know that this co-location was a bad idea and would be met with intense resistance from the Stoner community and Del Rey residents.
Unfortunately, when planning this co-location ICEF did not take the Stoner ES population or local residents into consideration. As far as ICEF has been concerned, this co-location was a foregone conclusion and no thought was put into the reality the co-location will create or the people who will be effected. So, it is very sad to see you now scrambling for solutions to the problem ICEF has set up for you for next year. ICEF has set your school on inevitable collision course and you are the one who will be dealing with all the fall out.
So, Ms. Buczek, I'm going to break down the major problems you will be facing.
Problem #1. Traffic & parking -- Traffic and parking around campus will again be a problem with this co-location. ICEF wants to bring in 170 students on to campus. According the ICEF co-location proposal, only 29 student are from the service area of Stoner, which means the majority of students would have to be driven in. The average distance ICEF student would travel to the Stoner campus is 7.3 miles. Some ICEF students would be coming as far away as 13 miles.
CWC only had 120 students and the traffic and parking was a nightmare. I can't image traffic will be better with 141 student coming from outside the area.
Problem #2. Safety -- Both on and off campus, the co-location creates major safety issues. The entrance door to the co-location side of campus is not secure. There is no one watching the entrance and the entrance can be easily opened by a child by merely turning a handle. Last year, a special needs student escaped through the charter school entrance.
On campus, we also had numerous reports of charter students bullying Stoner students in the shared bathroom. What was most troubling, is that the charter students would pick mainly on special needs students.
Off campus, the traffic creates a huge safety issue. We had multiple instances of children and families nearly being run over in the crosswalks on Lindblade near the co-location entrance.
It's understandable that parents are in rush to drop off or pick up their children. Unfortunately, the front entrance to the co-location is on a residential street meaning that rushing in and out creates dangerous conditions for all in the area.
Problem #3. Segregation -- Yes, I said it: segregation. Segregation is not just a black/white thing that happened in the South in the past century. This co-location will bring segregation to Del Rey.
This or any co-location creates separate and thus unequal conditions on campus. This is segregation and by working to support this co-location, Ms. Buczek, you are supporting creating and bringing segregation to the Stoner ES campus. Unless you are in favor of segregation, you should be actively opposing this co-location.
However, it seems that segregation is what ICEF is looking for. In the February 2015 ICEF SSC meeting minutes, it is stated that "...there will be a definite divide between Vista and Stoner students."
The biggest symbol of the segregation is the separate, private entrance for the co-location. Stoner students enter campus through the main campus entrance on Braddock across the street from the Mar Vista Gardens housing projects, but the co-located charter students enter through a private entrance in the back of the school on a residential street. This is quite literally separate and unequal access to education for different students on the same campus.
Last year, the Stoner community saw first hand what a co-location actually is and they were disturbed and disgusted. The traffic, safety and segregation issues united the Stoner community against co-location and for improving the school.
This year, we were able to add music and dance programs. However, the rooms for music, dance theater, speech therapy and the parents center are being taken away to give to ICEF. Stoner parents are furious about this are not willing to work in any capacity with a charter school that is taking resources from their children.
There is nothing that ICEF can do to assuage the anger of the Stoner community, short of cancelling the co-location. ICEF will be seen as an unwelcome occupier that will eventually be leaving. We would like to see that departure sooner rather than later, and will be doing everything we can to show ICEF out.
Problem #5. Constant and growing protests and opposition
You will be facing multiple protest through out the year. Last co-location we had three protest, but that's because the opposition did not start right away. This year, we've started early. The co-location hasn't even started and you've already faced a protest on your own campus. How do you think it will be like when you are on our home turf? And yes, it is our home. ICEF is co-locating with the intent to leave. Stoner has been at its location for 58 years and will still be there long after ICEF has left the area.
The protests were effective and got our message out loud and clear, but what we found was that the most effective protest was the lawn signs. Since people have work and school, we can't be out protesting everyday, but the yard signs made our position salient. These were a daily reminder to the charter community that the co-location was not welcome.
The yard signs were so upsetting to the charter community that people would steal the signs though out the year. By the end of the year, one charter family (mother, father and children) was so upset they went around the neighborhood stealing all signs from people's yards.
As the school year progress, the tension on campus and the opposition off will only increase leading to problems like we had last year where a toddler was almost sent on fire over a parking dispute between a charter community member and a local resident.
These are just some of the problem you will be facing with the co-location. How can you deal with these problem? Well, that's not my job, that's yours. You are an education professional it is your job to deal with these problems that your school is creating.
The fact that you are going to Del Rey Neighborhood Association this late in the co-location process looking for help does not inspire confidence in your or ICEF's ability to handle these problems since these were known problems that should have been taken into account when planning and applying for the co-location.
Ms. Buczek, you do have a voice in this. Do you really believe that this co-location is in the best interests of your school and the ICEF students and families? Do you believe this co-location will be beneficial to ICEF? Will the co-location benefit or hurt Stoner?
If you disagree with this co-location, you can do the right thing by refusing to be part of this co-location. It would send a powerful message to the ICEF administration and ICEF community about what you really stand for.
However, if you choose to support and be part of this co-location, you have been informed and are well aware of the problems that you are inviting on both the ICEF and Stoner communities. I do not envy the position you will be in next year in having to deal with all the problems caused by the co-location.
Adam C. Benitez
President, Friends of Stoner Avenue Elementary