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    In Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified, a battle brews over proposed charter school
    • July 10, 2023

    Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District has been looking at adding a charter school to the district, and California Republic Leadership Academy is hoping to its choice.

    CRLA Yorba Linda is a transitional kindergarten through eighth-grade charter school that will instill values of “virtue, responsibility and accountability,” said Gary Davis, CRLA’s executive director and a California Charter Schools Association vice president, during a June 20 PYLUSD board meeting.

    The goal of the new, tuition-free school would be to “inspire and empower the next generation of California’s leaders to excel academically, to be proud Americans, proud Californians, and to impact the world with excellence derived from an education like that which produced the inspired servant leaders who founded our great nation,” according to its mission statement.

    Students — which CRLA calls “scholars” — will be taught a “classical education” curriculum that will include history, English, math, visual and performing arts, laboratory science, foreign language and college preparatory electives.

    Davis said classical education “guides students to love that which is true, good, and beautiful.”

    The school would operate under the FranklinCovey “Leader in Me” curriculum that is based on the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” book by Stephen Covey. This curriculum is “leadership” focused, encouraging students to “intentionally lead their own lives,” according to the FranklinCovey website.

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    “Students are led and taught to see how people, decisions and discoveries have created the world we live in today,” said Davis. “Teachers will provide unbiased instruction without an agenda. Our goal is to raise up a generation of critical thinkers to lead our communities.”

    CRLA will also hold “traditional values” in classes. According to Davis, this looks like uniforms for all students, no cellphones, daily Pledge of Allegiance recitations and reading virtuously — meaning not just assigned reading, but for reading fun and enrichment.

    The school wants to “nourish freedom and instruct others in the principles of liberty” which will be done specifically by teaching students “‘how’ to think and not ‘what’ to think,’” as outlined on its website.

    Many district parents, during the June 20 board meeting, expressed dismay with the potential addition of a charter school to the district, arguing that it is “not prioritizing PYLUSD families” during the process.

    Shani Murray, a PYLUSD parent, created a petition along with other parents to urge the district to “protect local students” by denying the CRLA’s request. As of Friday morning, it had more than 300 signatures.

    “I’m concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding charter schools trying to come to PYLUSD,” said Murray, a senior writer for UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences. “The CRLA petition was received in April, so it’s troubling that the district waited until summer vacation to inform the community.”

    “At the public hearing, it became clear that CRLA would likely need PYL classrooms and facilities,” Murray added. “It was also clear that the majority of interested students are not from Placentia or Yorba Linda”

    During the meeting, Davis said that 165 of the 200 families expressing interest in the charter live outside of the PYLUSD district, in areas such as Burbank and Huntington Beach.

    “PYLUSD is an amazing school district with a variety of options and opportunities for students so I don’t know what gap this charter is trying to fill. I hope PYLUSD prioritizes local students and denies the charter,” said Murray.

    If approved, CRLA would be authorized as an in-person instructional program and would open its doors in time for the 2024-25 school year with an enrollment of 340 during its first year and 500 by 2030.

    The main hurdle for the creation of this school is finding a property to utilize, Davis said.

    Like other school districts across Orange County and California, PYLUSD has seen a drop in enrollment. The district’s enrollment during the 2022-23 school year is 23,138 compared to 25,741 in 2017-18, according to the California Department of Education.

    This drop in enrollment has opened up space in various PYLUSD classrooms, which Davis said could be a “potential place to teach the charter school students.”

    Ideally, said Davis, CRLA will have its own property to lease. The issue, however, is that a lease has not been finalized or sought after, which PYLUSD board member Leandra Blades said “could be a problem.”

    “I want to be realistic when we talk about the process,” said Blades. “When we talk about partnerships, this is a school that is separate and needs to have a specific space which could make this process harder.”

    If it is approved to become a charter in the district but cannot find a place to lease, the school has until Nov. 1 to request space in the district’s schools, according to the petition’s documents and Proposition 39.

    The school would be the second CRLA in Orange County; the first location will begin its first year of operation in San Juan Capistrano on Aug. 17.

    The approval of the San Juan Capistrano location was not an easy process as the school had to seek an appeal from the Orange County Board of Education after the Capistrano Unified School District Board split votes on the charter petition back in November.

    There are currently no charter schools in the PYLUSD, but this is not the first program to request to be in the district: In April, Orange County Classical Academy petitioned, requesting classroom space and use of school facilities. That request was never presented to the school board after a separate petition in opposition gathered more than 1,100 signatures.

    When reached for comment, board members shared a pre-written statement detailing CRLA’s petition submission and the district’s scheduled hearings about the matter.

    The PYLUSD board has become known for taking action against what it sees as progressive integration in the classroom. Last year, the board banned the teaching of critical race theory from the classroom, the first in Orange County to do so.

    The official vote for the approval of CRLA will take place during the PYLUSD’s Aug. 8 board meeting.

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    ​ Orange County Register