Safe enough for a charter, but not Life Academy

Not long after Life Academy students and staff learned they’d be uprooted from their Fruitvale-area campus because their school building wasn’t up to snuff with a seismic safety law for California’s public schools, someone paid the small high school a visit.

It was Peter Hanley, director of the Oakland Charter School Collaborative.

Reached this week, Hanley said that he did, in fact, scope out Life Academy’s campus. He liked what he saw. If Life Academy is forced to move, he said, “it would make a nice facility for a charter school.”

Why, you might ask, would it be legal to house one public school in a particular building, but not another? Charters are public schools, after all.

That’s because charter schools are exempt from the Field Act, the aforementioned law. Read a legal opinion here.

Hanley, himself, has experienced the frustration of trying to bring a traditional public school into Field Act compliance. He is a school board member in San Mateo, and he said complying with the law could be “vexing.”

Life Academy teachers and students might use a stronger word. (Read a summary about the situation, written by teacher Steve Miller, here.) If the matter isn’t resolved, the school might have to move miles away to the King Estates campus in the East Oakland hills or the former Carter Middle School in North Oakland, where the new International High School is housed.

(One teacher — Clifford Lee — took a stand against the proposed move while being honored at this week’s board meeting for receiving National Board Certification. If I remember correctly, Lee called the district incompetent and bureaucratic before posing for a photo with the school board and state administrator.)

 The problem with Life Academy, apparently, is that it is housed in a converted Red Cross building, rather than a facility specifically constructed to be a school. The Oakland school board, which is now in charge of facilities, said this week that they would take it up on Wednesday. I’ll let you know when I hear more details.

As the board tries out its new facilities oversight authority, how do you think it should handle this situation?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Caroline

    It seems to me (from the outside) like the issue is with the state laws — the Field Act and the laws governing charter schools — and not OUSD. What am I missing?

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, the Field Act is a state law, and it is mostly a state issue (one that obviously affects local districts, such as Oakland, which is why I raised it). At the same time, OUSD did decide to open Life Academy at its current location in 2001.

    I think the board has to decide whether there is anything it can do now to make the school compliant.