Strife Returns to Stoner Elementary

Posted August 19, 2015 by The Argonaut in News

On the first day of classes, protests greet charter school students sharing the campus

 By Gary Walker

ICEF Vista Academy students faced Friends of Stoner Avenue Elementary protestors on Monday as they made their way to class for the first time

ICEF Vista Academy students faced Friends of Stoner Avenue Elementary protestors on Monday as they made their way to class for the first time

For the second time in less than two years, a group of Stoner Avenue Elementary School parents and neighbors has picketed outside the school to protest the use of classrooms to accommodate charter school students.

More than 30 people convened at the Del Rey school’s side entrance on Monday morning, the first day of classes for kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade students at Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) Vista Academy.

The charter school now occupies nine classrooms at Stoner that it leases from LAUSD under Proposition 39, a voter-approved state initiative that requires school districts to lease vacant or under-utilized classroom space to charter schools.

During the protest, ICEF students wearing black and white uniforms moved from classroom to classroom under the watchful eyes of teachers as charter parents organized and distributed back-to-school supplies.

Stoner Avenue Elementary students lost an orchestra room, a speech therapy classroom and a room that teachers planned to use as a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) laboratory, said Friends of Stoner Elementary President Adam Benitez.

“[ICEF] is taking a lot of resources away from our kids. It feels like we’re being cut off at the knees,” said Benitez, whose two daughters attend Stoner.

A representative for ICEF said that the increasingly common practice of co-locating charter school facilities on traditional public school campuses requires a broader conversation about how educational resources are allocated — a question best addressed by LAUSD officials.

“We’re focused on making sure that our students have a positive first day of school,” ICEF spokeswoman Michel Schneider said.

LAUSD Charter Schools Director José Cole-Gutíerrez said the district recognizes the passions surrounding education, especially co-locations.

“LAUSD remains committed to working with all of our parents, students and community partners to foster a safe and conducive learning environment for all of our students,” he said. “We understand that there may be strong feelings from some members of the community about co-locations and reiterate that California law requires that public school facilities be shared fairly by all public school students.”

ICEF Vista Academy also maintains third- through eighth-grade classrooms at St. Gerard Majella School on Inglewood Boulevard in Del Rey.

Following a similar rally staged by the Friends of Stoner at St. Gerard Majella School, relations have gone from chilly to downright contentious.

Late into Monday’s protest at Stoner, an ICEF security guard who did not give his name pressured a member of the public who had taken photos of protesters and school activities from the sidewalk to delete those images.

“We had a complaint about concerns of child pornography,” the security guard said.

Benitez said such behavior is symptomatic of the rapidly deteriorating relations between his group and the charter school.

“It’s clear that they’re trying to intimidate us,” Benitez said.

Benitez and his supporters have been battling charter school co-locations at Stoner since 2013. In October of that year, Benitez’s brother José Benitez, an LAUSD employee, led a similar protest against Citizens of the World charter school occupying several classrooms at Stoner.

Citizens of the World applied to remain at Stoner for the 2014-15 school year but received space at other campuses after filing that application past deadline.

Adam Benitez had threatened a lawsuit against ICEF over filing its paperwork a day after deadline but now says he’s unlikely to pursue it, largely due to the cost.

LAUSD extended the paperwork deadline for Proposition 39 applications because its online application system had crashed on deadline day, preventing legitimate filings before the deadline.

Irma Delgado, a longtime Del Rey resident who volunteers at Stoner, said she senses hostility from the charter parents, likely due to such protests.

“There’s been no communication with us from them. We’re sharing a school, but they don’t seem to want to meet us halfway on anything,” said Delgado, who attended Stoner as a child.

ICEF’s Schneider said the charter school is working with Stoner Avenue Elementary Principal James Stapleton to smooth out potential obstacles.

“But right now we’re focusing on the children and their education,” she said.

Thom Taylor, a member of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, said he’s disheartened that ICEF and Friends of Stoner have not been able to mend their differences despite an offer by the council to mediate.

“I was concerned how the protest could affect the children, who probably didn’t understand what was happening,” Taylor said.

Benitez, who grew up in Del Rey, said the fight against the co-location will continue.

“Our next battle is on Nov. 1, when LAUSD receives new Prop. 39 applications,” he said. “We have to keep fighting. If we do nothing, our kids will be left behind.”


    Nika Cavat

    What a positive example warring parents are setting for their young children. One of the primary lessons children learn concerns sharing. What ICEF students may “lose” in space they will gain in new friendships, alliances, and experiences. When their parents cease viewing public space in such territorial terms, their kids will grow in character. I invite all parents, both privileged & not, to read Jonathan Kozol’s “Savage Inequalities”.

      Pablo del Pueblo

      Stoner parents are teaching their children to stand up for their rights and speak out against unjust laws that hurt them and their community.
      What is ICEF teaching? That it’s okay to take from those who are less advantaged.

    Carmen A

    It’s sad that ICEF has taken resources from Stoner. Co-location is the new segregation. There is a definite divide. ICEF has its own private entrance. Now at Stoner there is literally separate and unequal access to education on the same campus.


      I’ve actually worked at LAUSD schools from 2010 -2015 … about 90% of those schools have 10+ classes that they don’t use…. speech therapy is used for 1 – 4 students at most so why would they need a large classroom? t ? a music room can be used in the auditorium. …..If you go to a charter schools you see that teachers are trully invested in children, they buy supplies from their own pocket and leave work at 5pm. I rarely saw that in LAUSD. I’m not saying one is better than the other but have some perspective before you become a BULLY and scare Kinder students.

    Laurie Potts

    Nika – please read Diane Ravitch’s blog – charters are backed by corporate ed reform and they are making profit off your tax dollars. Go see Education, Inc.

    The Real Mero Mero

    We should all find it disappointing that both LASR and The Argonaut keep missing the real story here, despite continued coverage that merely perpetuates last year’s fabricated Prop39 antics by the local UTLA puppet, Adam Benitez… Reporters on this story are missing out by not digging into Benitez and his relationship with UTLA attack dogs like Robert Skeels and Karen Wolfe. Make no mistake, this is not a grassroots, local Stoner Elementary thing. This is sanctioned, underhanded, institutional thuggery at its worst with direct ties to UTLA and LAUSD leadership. They simply hide behind easily manipulated dunces to do their dirty work. If you just take the time to look, you will find an ‘Adam Benitez’ at any disputed LAUSD Prop39 site… do a little more quick digging and the same cast of characters comes into focus as will their tactics.

      Pablo del Pueblo

      How is Adam connected to UTLA? The article says he is a parent of 2 at Stoner and live right across from campus. it doesn’t get anymore grassroots than that. I think your tinfoil hat is getting loose.
      The parents at Stoner do not want a co-location because it takes resources from the local community and gives nothing in return.


    I am a parent a 3rd grader, my daughter who attends a westside school. We were able to stop the mandarin immersion program from growing at Mark Twain because we organized and we never gave up. I want charter schools out of our westside neighborhoods, and I believe if we organize more, we can accomplish this goal. We need to stay positive, and affirm our stance against Charter Schools taking over our neighborhood schools. Most importantly, we must never stop protesting.

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