Education

Clovis Unified rejects charter school that would teach in English and Punjabi

Attendees are shown at Wednesday's Clovis Unified board meeting, where a proposed charter school that would have taught in English and Punjabi was discussed.
Attendees are shown at Wednesday's Clovis Unified board meeting, where a proposed charter school that would have taught in English and Punjabi was discussed. aappleton@fresnobee.com

The Clovis Unified School District Board unanimously rejected a proposal Wednesday to establish an English-Punjabi charter school in the district.

Supporters of the school, including members of the Punjabi community, made up most of the audience at the March 21 meeting. Many wore stickers with the name of the school, "One and Only Academy," and over a dozen speakers voiced their support for the petition.

Trustees by a vote of 7-0 rejected the charter petition following a staff report that said the petitioners were demonstrably "unlikely to successfully implement the program."

Some of the district's concerns about the school included religious entanglement, as well as a question of whether the petitioners could recruit a student body that is reflective of the diversity in the community. The district was particularly concerned about a lack of recruitment materials in Spanish.

Lead petitioner Harmit Juneja, who teaches agricultural engineering at Sunnyside High School, said the district's staff report was disappointing.

Juneja also asked the board why the school was being looked at through a religious lens. "Do I not look like an American?" Juneja said. "All these people here, do they not look like Americans?"

The petitioners do not want to start a private school, Juneja said, because a private school would be insulating.

The One and Only Academy would have been only the second school in the nation to feature a dual English-Punjabi curriculum, said Jakara Movement Executive Director Deep Singh. The first Punjabi charter school opened in Sacramento in September 2011.

The school's proposed curriculum also included a focus on mindfulness in five, 10 and 20 minute segments throughout the day, which Julie Troletti, the school's prospective executive director, connected to the district's motto of "mind, body and spirit."

Troletti said the petitioners do plan to appeal the decision to the Fresno County Board of Education.

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