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Vaccination Rates in the Ross Valley

In recent years, many parents in Marin County and other communities have made the decision to opt out of vaccinations, completely or partially. This controversial practice places the health of all school children and their extended communities in jeopardy. When surrounded by a significant population of unvaccinated children, even fully vaccinated students are at risk of contracting potentially dangerous diseases, such as pertussis. For the small number of truly medically-vulnerable children who cannot be vaccinated, the risk of contracting a vaccine preventable infection skyrockets. Senate Bill 277 was passed in 2015.  The law requires that incoming kindergarteners in California have up to date immunizations. Medical exemptions are allowable, but new personal belief exemptions will not be honored. For those students who had PBEs prior to SB 277, the law allows them until 7th grade to complete immunizations. Ross Valley Charter’s unacceptably low vaccination rate threatens the health of all of their students, teachers, and staff as well as the health of the community at large.

Of 129 RVC students:

  • 67 are fully vaccinated as defined by SB 277, California’s mandatory vaccination law.
  • 26 have a status that is not clear, absent the student's birth year, from the information RVC provided via a public records act request. An additional PRA has been submitted to ascertain if these children are fully or partially vaccinated. 
  • 25 have personal belief exemptions (PBE).
  • 10 have personal medical exemptions (PME).
  • 1 student is partially vaccinated, was conditionally admitted, and is catching up on a conditional schedule. The law allows for this. 

Assuming a best-case scenario—that the 26 whose status is not clear are indeed fully vaccinated as defined by SB 277—the charter's vaccination rate is 73%. In a worst-case scenario, if all 26 are not fully vaccinated, it is 54%.

As noted earlier, all personal belief exemptions that were on file prior to the implementation of SB 277 are valid until those “grandfathered” children, currently grades 2 through 6, reach 7th grade. The majority of RVC’s 25 PBE students are concentrated in the older grades. Per California law, new PBEs are no longer accepted at any campus-based school, and those 25 students will need to be compliant by 7th grade in order to attend any campus-based school in the state.

A curiously high 8% of RVC students have personal medical exemptions, or PMEs. There is no school in RVSD with so high a percentage. Four medical practices provided nine legally acceptable letters of exemption. Three of the medical providers are recommended on an anti-vaxxer website:

*Dr. K Paul Stoller, Hyperbaric Oxygen Clinic of SF issued 3 of the PMEs. His website speaks volumes: https://www.jabevalscalifornia.com/

*Dr. Ron Kennedy, Anti-aging medical clinic in Santa Rosa issued 2 PMEs  

*Dr. Thomas Cowan – Holistic Family Medicine in SF issue one. He shares an address with Fourfold Healing and this website: https://fourfoldhealing.com/pages/about-us

 *The fourth PME provider, Pediatric Alternatives in Mill Valley, issued three. We note that one of the ten PMEs did not have an accompanying letter.

In order to compare apples to apples data to capture a snapshot of how RVC vaccination rates compare to RVSD rates, we look at the 2017-18 Kindergarten reports that were submitted to the state by November 1, 2017:

Percentage of TK/K students who are fully vaccinated as defined by SB 277:

What does this mean for our community? It means that herd immunity at RVC is threatened. It means that—by extension, on buses and sports teams, and at grocery stores and at White Hill as well as schools attended by RVC siblings—we, as a community, are no longer immune to the terrible diseases from which SB 277 is intended to shield us. It means that our most vulnerable—the very young, very old and immuno-compromised—are at unnecessarily high risk. From the campus currently rented to a preschool with vulnerable toddlers, to our middle school from which the kids return daily to homes throughout the entire Ross Valley, there is no campus that can safely house this school.

Herd immunity is meaningfully diminished below 80%, the point below which the CDC identifies communities as "most vulnerable."

It is worth repeating that only 73% of RVC students are fully vaccinated in a best-case scenario (the number is quite likely lower), and that even fully-vaccinated children are at risk when there is an outbreak at a shared campus.

It should be noted that a "community cluster", such as RVC, of unvaccinated children compounds the likelihood of an outbreak that spreads even more so than the raw data suggests. This article from the Washington Post explains the "community cluster" concept very well.

In 2010, a year in which several California infants died from pertussis (whooping cough), there was an outbreak in Marin County. The greatest concentration of cases was at Manor and Wade Thomas. The 2014 Marin outbreak was even worse. According to Harvard Medical School, in order for the pertussis vaccine to be effective, a vaccination rate of 92-94% must be achieved.

SB 277 was written to specifically address such dangers. According to the California Department of Public Health, “Schools with low vaccination rates are at increased risk for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Some children are allowed by California law to skip immunizations if a parent submits… a medical exemption (PME) at enrollment. Other children may be admitted to school on the 'condition' that they complete any remaining vaccinations when due. Until follow-up is complete, 'conditionally admitted' children remain under-vaccinated.”

It is the clear legal responsibility of the Prop 39 charter's overseer, the CDE, to hold the school accountable to follow state law 277 and ensure that all of the children are up to date with their vaccinations. Please contact Tom Torlakson (Superintendent@cde.ca.gov), SBE (SBE@cde.ca.gov), Mary Jane Burke (mjburke@marinschools.org), Marc Levine (assemblymember.levine@assembly.ca.gov) and Mike McGuire (senator.mcguire@senate.ca.gov) to ensure the charter follows the law.

We note that Marc Levine has accepted thousands of dollars from pro-charter interests and has been non-responsive to us, his constituents. He has failed to reach out to his colleagues at the CDE to request that they do their job. As such, it might be helpful to instead contact California State Senator Dr. Richard Pan, who might embrace our request that he and his colleagues pressure the CDE to step up and look carefully at RVC compliance. Voting districts have clear boundaries, but contagious diseases do not. It is a state-wide interest that our valley not become ground zero for the next deadly outbreak.

The second installment of this analysis, including updated statistics regarding the status of the 26 students whose initially provided data (without age) did not make clear if they are SB 277 compliant, will be published in the new year. That information will also determine the rate of fully vaccinated children (as defined by SB 277) at RVC, which is somewhere between 54% and 73%. The public records request has already been submitted. There are several credible resources for vaccine safety and information. This one is very useful: 

http://www.whyimmunize.org/vaccine-safety/

For those of you who need a bit of levity after reading this sobering information, we leave you with one of our favorite people sharing a perspective on vaccination opt-out: John Oliver. Happy holidays, folks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VG_s2PCH_c&app=desktop

Skin in the Game: Questions About The Prop 39 Charter's Possible Conflicts of Financial Interest

We have recently discovered that several charter leaders have a direct, personal financial stake in the charter’s success and some stand to financially benefit from its operation[1]. Through a recent Public Records Act request, it was revealed that the charter received a total of $130,000 in unsecured, personal loans from charter board members, parents, and family members. Click here to read the email from Conn Hickey, the charter school CFO, explaining the sources of the loans and click here to see the list of people that loaned the charter school money. Additionally, two of the lenders have received payment from the charter for services provided. Click here to read the charter’s expenditures/payments records.

These unsecured, personal loans will presumably be repaid with our public tax dollars. This raises all sorts of ethical questions, which we encourage you to ask:

1)    Why did the charter not disclose the source of this revenue in their charter petition to the state? 

2)    Since three of five current board members (formerly four of eight) have a personal financial stake in the charter, does this create potential conflicts of interest?

3)    Due to its markedly low in-district enrollment (currently 104), the charter’s financial viability is now tied to their importation of out-of-district kids. Will the charter leaders’ personal financial stake impact their ability to make neighborly decisions with regards to White Hill students, teachers and classrooms?

4)    Not only is one board member also a teacher (raising interesting ethical and governance issues), but the same teacher has a personal financial stake in the charter as the lender of a low-interest loan.

5)    What is the significance of the co-lead petitioner’s father loaning the charter $60,000 with interest?  How might that family's relationships be impacted if the loan is not repaid, and how does this motivate that family (when advocating on behalf of the charter)?

6)    Despite the fact that the demand for this charter has clearly not materialized (the number of enrolled in-district students is lower than the district program upon which the charter is based), this monied group continues to assert its desires against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of our community. Is the repayment of these personal loans a higher priority than community well-being? Do the personal loans, and the charter proponents' possible desire to repay family members, have anything to do with this?

7)    What does it mean that two of the lenders (one current board member) have also received some monetary compensation from the charter and how might that impact board decisions?

8)    Why does the charter present these monies as cash positive reserves in their budget? This is akin to taking an equity line of credit out on your home, then putting it in the bank and calling it savings.

9)    Does this sound like the way a truly public school operates?

These are our tax dollars. These are our facilities. These are our teachers. This is our community.

Most importantly, these are ALL of our children. STAND for our excellent, truly public, neighborhood schools.  Click here to contact the California Department of Education and demand that they revoke this charter.  Follow up with a phone call to Cindy Chan's office at 916 322-6029

[1] Though the charter’s July 15, 2015 petition included an $85,000 unsecured loan in its budget, its source (personal loans) was not stated.

Who is Really Backing Ross Valley Charter?

If you want to know the truth, follow the money.

Despite the privately managed, taxpayer funded Ross Valley Charter’s claims that it is “the creation of local public school teachers and public school parents,” some of their high powered maneuvers and litigation begs the question - who is really behind Ross Valley Charter and what do they hope to gain from this? If you want to know the truth, follow the money (click here).

Through various Public Records Act requests (click here to read them) submitted by community members who wished to gain a better understanding of the charter school’s resources and motivation, it has become clear that the Prop 39 charter school is not just a group of local citizens seeking to form a school. What we now know is that two charter school leaders have connections to wealthy special interests, which are very interested in seeing this charter open its doors in our Ross Valley. The following heavy hitters are funding and fueling their local effort: The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA); their favored law firm, Young, Minney and Corr; and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. Holland and Knight, a high-powered lobbying and legal firm from Florida has provided pro bono work to the charter.

Why should we be concerned about these deep-pocketed backers of the Prop 39 charter school? If the current charter school leaders succeed, these special interest groups will have taken root in our small community and Marin County, and we might never be free of them. With the opening of the charter, the groundwork will have been successfully laid for the opening of more charters within the Ross Valley, potentially further eroding our community, weakening our public school district and removing local governance and control. Given the militant tone and approach of the charter’s backer, CCSA (Click here to read about their recent conference entitled “COMBAT WARFARE: LEGISLATIVE THREATS TO CHARTER SCHOOLS”), we need to prepare for this eventuality and STAND together.

The CCSA is funded by billionaires such as Charles and Helen Schwab, the Waltons (WalMart), Eli Broad and Reed Hastings, among others (click here and then click on each billionaire’s name to see their donations to CCSA, and here to read about these “power brokers”). These donors fund charters and pro-charter school board candidates across California and the country, in order to break and take our public schools while turning them into profit making ventures. They have even helped to fund a recent lawsuit seeking to gut the teachers’ union (click here to read the final outcome of that lawsuit). Because this is so-called “dark money,” it is difficult to illuminate all they fund, but a simple google search is telling.

Kristi Kimball, a local resident and member of the Ross Valley Charter School Board is also on the CCSA board, although her bio on the charter board website does not disclose this connection. Though apparently never an educator herself, Ms. Kimball has overseen the distribution of millions of dollars of charter school funding through her work for billionaire foundations such as the Hewlett Foundation and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. Click here to see the list of organizations her current employer, the Helen and Charles Schwab Foundation supports, including the CCSA.

The Prop 39 Charter School was represented by the charter industry law firm Young Minney and Corr in the recent lawsuit against our public schools (read the Marin IJ article here). But how could this local group of parents and teachers afford such expensive legal services?

A recent Public Records Act request helped illuminate how the charter has been able to fund such expensive legal actions. In their December 23, 2016 emailed response, Sharon Sagar, Charter School Board President wrote, “We want you to know that All YMC work on Prop 39 was pro bono, paid by CCSA, so we do not have any records for that work.” In other words, the Prop 39 Charter School’s legal assault on our district is being funded by CCSA which pays the costs of its legal services in order to maintain the fiction that the charter school is a local grassroots group. Further, the CCSA wrote a blog entitled ”Ross Valley School District’s Efforts to Thwart Families’ Right to Education,” about the suit, but it has been subsequently removed. This pro bono work is on top of the $40,000 loan the charter accepted from CCSA to cover the costs of litigating against our district around enrollment issues. Click here to read the letter from our Superintendent, which explains how the CCSA, Ross Valley Charter and Young Minney and Corr have a “tripartite agreement.”  Click here to read our blog about the loan.

Andrea Sumits’ involvement in the charter and in the MAP program has been extensive, yet her official role remains unclear. She served as the leader (“Facilitator”) of the MAP board, and then went on to serve as a member of the charter school’s board. Her spouse is the co-lead petitioner, and as local residents know, her comments appear all over social media. Additionally, Ms. Sumits was the named plaintiff (with another parent, on behalf of the charter) in the aforementioned lawsuit against our public school district, which has since been dismissed.

Perhaps more interestingly, Florida based law firm Holland and Knight employs Ms. Sumits, and has provided $80,000 in pro bono work to the charter. It is unclear whether Ms. Sumits is the attorney of record for the Prop 39 Charter School, but according to invoices from Holland and Knight obtained under a Public Records Act request (click here to read them), Ms. Sumits billed for 62 hours of work at a rate of $620 per hour as “Consulting Counsel.” Holland and Knight is a massive legal operation, employing over 1,000 attorneys across the nation. According to The Center for Responsive Politics, Holland and Knight was paid $14.5 million dollars as a result of their extensive lobbying work.

Rather than a “grassroots” effort we might better refer to the charter school as another “astroturf” group fronting for powerful corporate interests with its sights set on taking and breaking our children’s public school and transforming it into yet another private corporate venture.

As we take stock of the recent actions of Donald Trump and his appointment of anti-public school billionaire Betsy DeVos to Education Secretary, who are seeking to remake the Department of Education into a “school choice” promoting machine, it stands to reason that our public schools are under attack. We can expect greater pressure from the federal government and deep pocketed corporate groups such as CCSA to dismantle our public schools and replace them with more publicly funded and privately managed charters. The fight we face in Ross Valley to protect our schools is the fight happening all over the country to prevent the destruction of public education in America. With the end of public education, so goes our democracy.

We believe in true public education. Stand with us!