The San Mateo County Board of Education on Wednesday night, Feb. 4, unanimously denied the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter School's proposal to open a new school in the Menlo Park City School District.
The county board used as its grounds for denying the petition a report by county staff analyzing the petition to open a Mandarin immersion charter school next fall.
Board members said they found that the charter petition had too many flaws to be approved. The petition, if approved, becomes the governing blueprint for a charter school and can only be changed by a vote of the group originally granting it.
"I can only vote to deny this appeal," said board member Joe Ross, who represents the Menlo Park district area. "I don't think it would do the public, or the community, or the parents, any good to move forward with this petition."
He pointed to a requirement in the school's petition that all students in second grade and beyond must pass a Mandarin proficiency test to be admitted to the school. County staff said that requirement violates a state law that says all students who want to attend a charter must be admitted if there is room for them.
"I am afraid that this assumes that all students beyond second grade who do not speak Mandarin actually can not learn at this school," Mr. Ross said.
Board member Susan Alvaro said she was concerned about the lack of specifics about how the school would deal with special education students. "I am really concerned about the students in our county who are struggling and not making it," she said.
Board members seemed sympathetic to the school's general concept, which is to eventually be a kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school of 450 students that would teach students mostly in Mandarin in lower grades and use, according to the group's website, "an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and experiential approach that nurtures the whole child."
"I think that with the right support," board member Ted Lempert said, "the petition could be fixed. But that's not the petition before us."
Board members had offered to allow the Menlo Mandarin group to withdraw their charter petition and start over by bringing a new petition to the Menlo Park City School District. But after a hurried conference, a group of charter backers said they would prefer to have the charter either approved or denied. A denial allows them to appeal to the state board of education.
Board member Rod Hsiao, who said his own children are in an immersion program, said he would have preferred to see the charter group try again. "I am disappointed that they are not going to take a run at correcting the deficiencies and reapply," he said.
About 80 people attended the meeting at the County Office of Education's board meeting room in Redwood City. The size of the crowd was indicative of the attention the charter proposal has received. County Superintendent Anne Campbell said the board heard from 45 speakers at a January public hearing, received 240 written comments, and had seven speakers on Wednesday.
The proponents of the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter school had appealed to the county board after the Menlo Park district school board voted unanimously in November to deny their petition.
Carol Cunningham, who has been leading the drive for the charter school, said Feb. 4 that backers have not yet decided if they will appeal to the state board of education.
The school's charter must be approved by May 7 in order to preserve a $375,000 grant from the federal Public Charter Schools Grant Program, via the Charter Schools Division of the California Department of Education, which would help pay the school's startup costs. If appealed, the state board would have 60 days after the date of the appeal to vote on the charter.