‘I’m Not Going To Keep Quiet:’ Washington Parents Depressed But Determined After Charter Court Verdict

‘I’m Not Going to Keep Quiet:’ Washington Parents Depressed But Determined After Charter Court Verdict

Updated September 16

The Seventy Four provides an update on the recent decision made by the Washington Supreme Court. You can find our comprehensive coverage below.

Parents, students, and staff at Washington’s charter schools had just started settling in and getting used to their new schools after a few weeks of classes. They were looking forward to a three-day holiday weekend when they received the news on Friday, September 4: the state Supreme Court ruled that charter schools, which were approved by voters in a statewide referendum, were in violation of the state constitution.

Several parents interviewed by The Seventy Four a week after the surprising decision expressed their shock and confusion. They felt like their children and school leaders had been let down, but they promised to do whatever it takes to save charter school options, not just for their kids but for all children in Washington.

On Friday, Governor Jay Inslee announced that he would not call for a special legislative session to address the urgent problem. This means that the issue will either be reconsidered by the court or left unresolved until the legislature reconvenes in January.

Jessica Garcia, a mother whose daughter, Isadora, just started sixth grade at the newly opened Green Dot Destiny school in Tacoma, was heartbroken and shocked when she heard the decision. She expressed her desire to have a say in her child’s education and where their hard-earned tax dollars go.

Garcia also has a personal reason for sending Isadora to Green Dot. Her older son, who has Asperger’s, was relentlessly bullied from fourth grade through middle school at his traditional public school. Despite being called derogatory slurs and suffering broken bones at the hands of bullies, the district could not transfer him to another school due to overcrowding. Eventually, Garcia had to give educational guardianship of her son to his grandmother so he could attend school in a different district. He was later accepted to a magnet school and graduated high school this year.

Her son’s experience has had a lasting impact on the entire family, including Isadora. Garcia believes that they all carry the scars of a failed system. At Isadora’s previous elementary school, the teachers did not have the resources to challenge her academically. In fact, Isadora was asked to tutor other children in her class at one point. However, since attending Green Dot Destiny, Isadora has been challenged and is thriving.

Garcia is amazed at her daughter’s newfound enthusiasm for learning. Isadora wakes up early, gets dressed, and is ready for school before her morning alarm even goes off. She now has the opportunity to engage in learning, something she hadn’t experienced before.

Other parents in Washington have their own reasons for choosing and needing charter schools for their children. This is the first school year for Washington charters. Deanne Hilburn’s son, Austin, is in sixth grade at Excel Public Charter in Kent. He was not receiving the support he needed at his traditional school due to disciplinary issues involving other students, which consumed the teachers’ attention. Hilburn recalls that Austin was frustrated and angry, and it was affecting their family life. However, since attending the charter school, Austin has never looked happier. It has completely changed their family dynamic because he is now happy, well-adjusted, and loves learning.

Hilburn, who was brought to tears upon hearing about the court’s decision, acknowledges that charters may not be the top education priority in Washington at the moment. The recent teachers’ strike in Seattle and the state legislature’s $100,000 daily fine for underfunding education are more pressing issues. However, Hilburn believes that charter schools can still play an important role in improving education in Washington.

Garcia took the initiative to contact the chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court, and her daughter Isadora did the same.The concerns expressed by Hilburn and other parents are centered around the lack of academic rigor and the inadequacy of neighborhood public schools in challenging and stimulating students.Natasha Lemke shares that her daughter Noelani seems to be progressing more quickly than her peers and struggles to remain engaged. Although Noelani had a positive experience in kindergarten at a traditional public school, Lemke was uncertain about whether the first-grade teachers could provide her with the extra attention she needed.Lemke admits that the initial few days at Noelani’s new school were challenging, but she has since made friends, embraced the advanced classwork, and loves the daily hour of dance students have access to. "She has adjusted very well, and my biggest concern was having to go through this process all over again," Lemke explained.Unfortunately, attending a private school is not a viable option for Lemke’s family. Lemke researched one option that cost $8,000 per year, which is more than what she currently pays for community college.She expresses unease about the argument to have elected boards govern charter schools, as this is the same model used in Tacoma public schools, which have received failing ratings for years under the No Child Left Behind law. "We haven’t had a chance to demonstrate our success, but it’s evident that they are failing. If something isn’t working for them, why should we mirror their approach?" Lemke questioned.Kate Vanskike’s daughter Emily, like Isadora Garcia, is also gifted. She started school at an early age, and Vanskike felt uncomfortable sending her, a ten-year-old sixth grader, to a school with fourteen-year-olds. "I wanted options, that’s ultimately what it came down to," Vanskike shared. Emily is now thriving at the Spokane International Academy.The charter school voter initiative was passed nearly three years ago, and the lawsuit related to it has been pending for almost a year, according to Vanskike. In her opinion, the release of the court’s decision late on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend "clearly indicated that someone had an agenda."However, following the initial heartbreak, parents, students, and school leaders quickly shifted their frustrations into a determined push for action. "There was a lot of fear, disappointment, and confusion," said Adel Sefrioui, founder and executive director of the Excel charter schools in Washington. "But by the time Monday and Tuesday came around, that fear and disappointment turned into hope, optimism, and action."Jen Wickens, regional director of Summit Public Schools, remarked on the families’ willingness to think beyond themselves. "What amazed me was that every single family was not only dedicated to ensuring that their own child could continue at Summit, but also committed to the future enrollment of all the other kids," she said.


  • joshwright

    Josh Wright is a 34-year-old educational blogger and school teacher who has been working in the field for over a decade. He has written extensively on a variety of educational topics, and is passionate about helping others achieve their educational goals.

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