Rocketship Fuerza Renewal of Charter Petition Approved, Despite Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Attempts to Limit Parent Voices

On October 24, 2018, my daughter’s school, Rocketship Fuerza, received unanimous approval for the renewal of its charter petition from Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE). This means that Rocketship Fuerza is authorized to remain open another five years! As I take time to reflect on this journey, I can’t help but feel proud to have worked alongside two amazing parent leaders, Alexandrea Martinez and Carmen Davalos, to organize our school community. In 2014, we learned community organizing skills to help open our school. Now we used those same skills to lead our school community in our renewal process. The countless trainings, meetings, and phone banks were all worth it when we received UNANIMOUS approval.

We invited all 7 board members to meet with parents and teachers before the decision hearing. The purpose of our meeting requests was to get to know one another and share more about our school and learn more from the individual board members, but only 5 of the 7 board members met with us. One didn’t respond to our invitation, and the other declined our invitation. It is important to note that parents invited the board members to meet with us because we know the importance of building relationships with elected officials in order to work together to improve our community. It is a shame when elected officials choose not to meet with the community they serve.

On the night of our first public hearing, September 19, 2018, over 500 families attended the hearing. It was amazing to see the board room and overflow room filled with families and teachers in support of our school. It was great to see the unity of our community at SCCOE, many families had never been to a school board meeting before, and it was great that they took time to attend to show their children the importance of civic engagement.

Although I am happy that we received unanimous vote, I am also frustrated with SCCOE on how the office tried to LIMIT our families to attend a PUBLIC hearing. When I arrived to SCCOE the evening of October 24th, there was a SCCOE employee at the door counting every person who walked inside the building, with a clicker. I was surprised. I have never noticed a person counting before. During the board closed session, I was walking from the overflow room towards the board room, and a parent standing outside the front door yelled out my name. I turned and she said that they were not letting them inside. A security guard and the SCCOE employee with clicker were standing in front of the door preventing them from walking inside. I immediately went to let school staff know of the situation then went to the front door to ask why. I first put my phone on Facebook Live and I asked why they were preventing families from attending a PUBLIC hearing? The SCCOE employee said that she was told that the capacity was 350 and once she counted 350 people, not to let anyone else inside. I told her that the rooms were not full; there was still plenty of space in the overflow room. And I said that the capacity sign inside the overflow room says capacity 277, the board room capacity 200, so that was total of 477, so why were they telling us that 350 was capacity? The SCCOE employee got very upset that I was asking questions and kept saying she was following instructions from the coordinator. So I asked her to call the coordinator so that I can understand why they were not allowing families to attend a PUBLIC hearing. During this time, our Vice Mayor, Magdalena Carrasco, showed up and couldn’t come in. Once SCCOE staff realized our Vice Mayor was there, they said she could walk in, but she decided to stay in solidarity with the families until all was resolved. They eventually allowed the group waiting at the door to go inside, but then gave orders that no one else could go inside the building.

As a parent leader in my community, I had been sharing with parents the benefit and importance of attending the public hearings. I reiterated the importance of sharing our stories and using our voice during public comment. Many parents and students were excited to speak at the hearing, and many were excited just to be present in support of our school. I learned the importance of civic engagement and have been trying to share that with other parents. I cannot understand why SCCOE chose not to accommodate for the overflow and instead opted to limit how many families can attend public hearing. There was still plenty of space in both overflow room and the board room, yet SCCOE still denied access to families that night. I kept asking questions and spoke up because I learned to use my voice and question when something is not right. Someone did pull me aside and asked me to “chill”… chill because I was questioning an injustice? I learned to use my voice, to speak up when I see injustice and that evening, parents were being denied access to a public hearing that affected their children’s education and that is an injustice! I did not “chill” and continued to ask questions because I needed to stand up for those families who were stuck on the other side of the door. I was not acting out of hand and had every right to question why they were not allowing parents to attend a public hearing and I thank God for giving me the courage to speak up when I need to and to not feel intimidated when someone tries to stop me from using my voice.

We live in a political climate where our federal government is trying to intimidate us, especially our immigrant families, we already feel exiled and stepped on by our federal government, and to attend a school board meeting, where they try to stop you from entering the building concerns me. The meeting is in regards to our children’s education, instead of encouraging families to be civically engaged in the process for their children’s education, SCCOE sent out message to parents, similar to our federal government, our presence is not important; we are excluded from civic engagement. SCCOE knew how many people turned out at the first hearing, why not prepare for a large turn out and accommodate more rooms or move the meeting to another space where it can accommodate more people? Instead, SCCOE chose to deny access for all who wanted to attend the public hearing, the office chose to send message of exclusion and intimidation to our families, and on top of that tried to LIMIT the speakers, trying to silence our voices. I didn’t agree and told the board president the message they were sending was wrong and that we were not going to limit the speakers who wanted to share their story. In the end, every speaker who wanted to share their story was able to that evening.

I hope that SCCOE and other school boards don’t try to limit families from attending future board meetings and hope they choose to accommodate for overflow when needed. We need our families to be civically engaged and they shouldn’t be discouraged by the members of the board whom are there to serve all our communities. We need to collaborate and encourage our families and community to be involved. Parent voice is powerful, and together we can demand change and not take no for an answer in an organized way. I will continue to be a voice in my community and hope that through my experiences, others will want to be civically engaged too. Together we can make a positive change in all our communities.

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Lety Gomez

Lety Gomez

Lety Gomez was born and raised in East San Jose. She is married with three children. She graduated from University of Phoenix with a bachelor’s degree in Business/Accounting. When she was a teenager, Fr. Mateo Sheedy was the pastor of her parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus. She fondly remembers his passion for social justice, especially justice for the immigrant community in San Jose and ensuring that the parish youth had access to high quality education. Fr. Mateo instilled in her his passion for social justice, but for many years it was kept unlit, deep inside of her. It wasn’t until her youngest daughter was enrolled at Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep in 2014 that her passion for social justice lit up. Thanks to the Rocketship parent organizer at that time, Lety received training and the tools to use her voice for social justice and learned about community organizing. She is proud to be one of the many parents who worked hard to open their school, knowing that the kids needed and deserved a better public school. That struggle is why they named their school Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep. “Fuerza” is the Spanish word for force, strength, or power. Her passion for advocating for education has allowed her to be a voice for other parents in her community who seek high quality education options. She wants to share her story with other parents in efforts to motivate them to get involved so they can advocate together, because united they can make a change in the educational system and in their communities. Lety is currently a community leader in East San Jose, where she advocates for equity in public education and parent choice.

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