As Los Angeles moves forward with plans to build a new charter school in Boyle Heights, residents opposing the project are taking the city to court.
The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Association, a group representing community members, and Carlos Montes, a local organizer, filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles last week to block the construction of KIPP Promesa Prep.
The suit claims that the school would pose an environmental hazard to the community, increasing traffic and pollution in the area, and accuses the city of violating the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to conduct a full environmental impact report. It also argues that the land is not properly zoned for school use.
Charter school operator KIPP LA Schools, a nonprofit organization that runs 15 public charter schools around the city, was also named in the suit. KIPP is planning to construct Promesa Prep on the site of the former Promise Hospital, on Soto Street one block east of Roosevelt High School. The school, which is slated to open in July, would have space for 625 students in grades K-4.
“We were disappointed that the lawsuit was filed against our proposed new campus for KIPP Promesa Prep,” KIPP LA’s Chief External Impact Officer Dr. Manny A. Aceves said in a statement. “Our focus is on our students, their families, and the Boyle Heights community.”
Carlos Cerdan, a sixth-grade teacher at nearby Breed Street Elementary School, said increased traffic would pose a heavy burden to the community. He also expressed concerns that KIPP Promesa Prep — which has been operating at two temporary sites in Boyle Heights since 2015 — would draw in students from other local schools, leading to layoffs and lower funding.
“We’ve felt like they have been dismissing a lot of the community voice for a school that we feel isn’t really needed,” Cerdan said. “We already know that because of gentrification, housing issues, student enrollment has been dropping for years now.”
Labor rights group United Teachers of Los Angeles and community organizer Centro CSO rallied in October to urge the city’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee to halt the plans for the new school. Protesters marched to the offices of the committee’s then-chairman, City Councilman José Huízar, whose district includes Boyle Heights.
But the City Council, following a PLUM Committee recommendation, denied an appeal by Montes in December to block the school’s construction on environmental grounds. All 11 council members present — including Huízar — voted in favor of the project.
The protests against KIPP Promesa Prep are part of a larger wave of opposition to the building of charter schools around the city — one of the reasons the United Teachers Los Angles union is planning to strike on Monday. Cerdan said teachers want “more accountability and more regulation” for charter schools, which are publicly funded and open-enrollment but are not directly run by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“I don’t think we’re asking for too much,” Cerdan said.
A previous version of this post misstated the name of the organization that filed the lawsuit. It is the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Association, not the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council.
Photo: Protesters rally against the construction of the KIPP Promesa Prep school in October 2018.