Families Rally for District of Choice

Walnut Valley Unified School District

By Kelli Gile, Office of Community Resources

WALNUT, CA- Nearly a thousand students, parents, and school officials joined voices on August 27, in protest of a surprising unilateral decision which jeopardizes the future of the District of Choice (DOC) program.

A rally held at Maple Hill Park in Diamond Bar was organized by Walnut Valley Unified School District (WVUSD) parents with the purpose of sending a clear message to legislators.

Wearing yellow shirts, the crowd of rally-goers chanted “Walnut Valley is our choice – let our students have a voice!”

Additionally, families and officials from other DOC districts, including Oak Park, Glendora, and West Covina attended the event.

“We’re all united for one cause,” said DOC parent Sam Castorena. “This is a California issue affecting nearly 10,000 students in 47 districts, and we all have the same question – why?”

“We were blindsided.”

District of Choice allows California parents to transfer their children to a participating school district without a transfer agreement. The school choice program has been in existence for 22 years.

A bill to extend the program was killed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on August 12, just three days before the new school year began.

“It’s really a shame that this is a situation of personal politics rather than facts and policy,” said WVUSD Superintendent Dr. Robert Taylor.

“And the kids are definitely the losers.”

In the past two weeks, angered parents contacted legislators in support of DOC with thousands of phone calls, emails, and letters.  To date, a “Let Parents Have a Choice in Their Children’s Education” petition on Change.org has collected over 4,500 signatures.

“We all have one thing in common – the choice. We’re all fighting for our kids,” Castorena said.

Without an extension, DOC students will be sent back to their home district at the end of this school year.

“We are parents who care and want the right to choose,” urged DOC parent Teruni Evans.

About 3,600 WVUSD students secure enrollment through the District of Choice.

DOC students are immersed in every classroom and program on all 15 campuses. They are part of the fabric of the Walnut Valley family.

If Walnut Valley loses DOC, it would cost $29 million in funding, which equates to more than 300 employees potentially losing their jobs, closing a quarter of our schools, and cutting programs, Dr. Taylor said.

Over a year ago, legislators asked for an unbiased non-partisan study on DOC to create a better way of guiding the program.

“It was recommended that we extend the DOC program because it’s good for all kids. We have two decades of success stories demonstrating how this program has benefitted all kids,” Dr. Taylor added.

During the rally, several Walnut Valley students helped lead the charge in support of DOC.

“If DOC ends, that means cuts to many of the programs that have made these schools so great. That is unacceptable!” said Diamond Bar High School junior Nick Lucero. “It may mean the cut of the performing arts program that has transformed me into the person that I am today.”

“My parents had enough of me being mistreated at my previous district and decided to give me the gift of DOC,” added freshman Diego Santos. “Since coming to WVUSD, life as a student has been awesome. We should never be forced away from our schools, dreams, goals, and friends.”

“I fear that the future students of Walnut Valley will not receive the same amazing opportunities that I have today,” said Walnut High School sophomore Ethan Lee. “Students have the right to seek an education that offers a variety of choices. Today we stand together and hope that this bill will be passed. Sign the petition, call legislators, do what you can!”

A school choice bill, AB 1432, was written by Senator Bob Huff to reauthorize the program that is scheduled to sunset at the end of this school year.

It was approved unanimously in three Senate committees and the Assembly Education Committee, and by a 38-1 vote on the Senate floor, but then was stalemated by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“We never saw that coming,” said Huff who is a longtime champion of the DOC program.

“The amended bill, AB 1771, will be a slow death for DOC because current students will only be able to finish the school they’re at, but not be able to matriculate to middle or high school. It also means other members of the family wouldn’t be able to come in,” Huff said.

Huff and Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang are now working with DOC superintendents to craft a new bill for the next legislative session.

“We’re working day and night in Sacramento to build a bipartisan coalition to make sure they have a bill vehicle to extend the program as long as possible,” Chang said.

“We’re doing everything we can to save DOC.”

In Walnut Valley, the end of DOC would impact every child, family, staff member, and teacher in the district, according to parent Lily Eibert.

“Walnut Valley is the centerpiece of our community – and someone is messing with our award-winning nationally-ranked schools. I think this particular Assemblywoman underestimated the power of our community and the extent that we will go to make sure that we have a voice and a choice in our kids’ education!”