American Indian Model Schools can remain open

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OAKLAND (BCN)

A judge today granted a temporary restraining order that allows an Oakland charter school that has high-achieving students but allegedly engaged in financial improprieties to keep operating for now.

The Oakland school board voted by a narrow 4-3 margin on March 20 to revoke the charter for the American Indian Model Schools, alleging that the school hasn’t done enough to rectify financial irregularities that were found in a state audit last year.

The board’s action meant that the school, which was founded in 1996 and has 1,200 students at three campuses in Oakland, was set to lose its funding at the end of the month and close its doors.

American Indian Model Schools filed an appeal of the school board’s decision to the Alameda County Board of Education on April 18, but that board hasn’t held a hearing on the matter yet and the earliest it could act would be June 25, five days after the school’s summer session is scheduled to begin on June 20.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo said at a hearing today that he’s concerned that the merits of the school’s appeal may not be heard “before it goes out of business” and he believes it would be irreparably harmed if it was closed now.

Grillo said American Indian Model Schools “appears to be functioning at a high level” and he thinks its students should be allowed to “do what students do, which is study” during the appellate process.

After Grillo ruled, the school’s attorney, James Kachmar, said, “We’re ecstatic. This is about the students.”

Kachmar said Grillo’s ruling means that the school can go ahead with its summer session and plan for its upcoming fall session.

He said at this point it’s not clear if Grillo will rule on the merits of a lawsuit the school filed against the Oakland Unified School District or wait until after the county board of education rules on the school’s appeal.

During the hearing today, Kachmar said the appellate process could be lengthy. He said the county board has until July 18 to act on the school’s appeal and if that board doesn’t rule in favor of the school it could then appeal to the state board of education, which would have another six months to act.

School district spokesman Troy Flint said the district believed
that the appeals process should have been completed before the matter went to court.

“We felt that there’s an established procedure for appeals and that a court ruling at this time didn’t make sense but the judge felt
differently,” Flint said.

Flint said the school board voted to revoke American Indian Model School’s charter “to protect the taxpayers” because the school abused the public’s trust by misusing public funds.

He said financial improprieties at the school have been documented by three different agencies.

U.S. News and World Report has ranked American Indian Model Schools as one of the top schools in California and the nation, but Flint said the school’s directors haven’t adequately improved its financial practices, which the district believes have been improper.

After the hearing today, American Indian Model Schools Director Nabeehah Shakir said, “We’re just so happy.”

Shakir said, “I’ve been in the education field for over four decades and I’ve never seen kids work so hard and teachers work so hard as at our school.”

She said the school’s students are so dedicated that “they do homework on the last day of school.”

Shakir said that although allegations have been made that American Indian Model Schools founder and former Director Ben Chavis misused public funds, “they have never been proven.”

(Copyright 2013 Bay City News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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