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REALM Returns to Berkeley Under Threat of Losing Charter

Photograph by Asia Guzman

Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement (REALM) charter school was in danger of losing its school charter unless it found a new location in Berkeley, and the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) School Board is no longer allowing REALM to use the BUSD office as a location.

REALM currently leases 1798 Scenic Avenue, Berkeley, for its middle school from the Pacific School of Religion. The building needs earthquake safety renovations which have encountered unexpected delays, so REALM has been operating its middle school at the old Tehiyah Day School site in El Cerrito since the beginning of its school year on August 22.

They just received the building permit for this new permanent location, according to Victor Diaz, REALM’s executive director. REALM has found a new temporary location at Zaytuna College in Berkeley, and is beginning to move in on December 14. REALM’s charter requires that it be located in Alameda County or have its charter revoked. “We [didn’t] really have a choice,” said Judy Appel, one of the BUSD School Board directors, about the revocation process. REALM has been open since 2011, and is the only charter school in Berkeley. With a middle school and a high school, each at different locations, REALM teaches grades six through 12. Although REALM’s high school is located in Berkeley, the loss of REALM’s charter  would affect the high school as well.

BUSD held a public hearing on REALM’s charter on Wednesday, December 12, where the school board voted to start the standard 30 day period and extend it by 30 days for REALM to find a temporary location within Berkeley, or to move into its facility on Scenic Avenue. At the meeting, Diaz presented the school’s new plans to move into the temporary location, and an update on the construction at the Pacific School of Religion. Diaz also said he submitted a material revision to the board, indicating that the location has changed. If approved, a new process will begin for the revision. At the moment, however, the process of revocation is still open. Some school board directors expressed concern that even in this temporary location REALM is still not in the location originally approved by the board. “They just need to move into their new location, and then their charter will be fine,” said Appel.

On November 14, the school board approved the issuance of a Notice of Intent to Revoke REALM’s charter. Minutes of the meeting read that “REALM should have … submitted an additional material revision for approval to occupy the different location.” Appel said she believes this situation could have been avoided with “much better communication from REALM.” She said that REALM did not tell the school board that it had moved one of its locations outside of Alameda County before doing so. Official minutes also show that no REALM representative was present to comment at the meeting. A couple months earlier, on September 26, the school board issued a Notice of Violation to REALM for violating the rules of their location. “I hope that they’re able to get into their new location and that their students will have a permanent place to learn,” said Appel.

Previously, REALM operated in the BUSD offices on 2020 Bonar Street. Arvin Hariri, Berkeley High School (BHS) student representative on the school board, said the they had found that at that location, REALM served few children within Berkeley, mainly serving students from out of the district. Hariri said this is why the school board decided that it would continue to allow REALM to be a charter school in Berkeley, but it would no longer allow REALM to use the district’s site. Hariri, like Appel, said that REALM would keep its charter if it began complying with its location regulations.

Maceo Raiford Cohen, a former REALM student, was unsurprised to learn REALM might lose its charter. Now a junior at BHS, he said that as REALM middle schoolers, he and many others expected REALM to lose its charter. “The teachers there had a lot of heart and were kind of fun to be around but staff [were] getting replaced … all the time; a lot of the time teachers wouldn’t make it through the whole year. The school had an idea of what it wanted to be but kind of fell short of it,” said Raiford Cohen. REALM did not respond to a request for comment left as voicemail on their primary phone, and the phone number associated with their middle school is disconnected.

On February 12, the BUSD School Board will hold its first meeting after the 60 day grace period for REALM to comply with its charter elapses.