First published in the Feb. 18 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
A trio of self-described advocates have called on the South Pasadena Unified School District to provide tuition-free summer school in a report that alleged racial disparities in the program operated by the South Pasadena Educational Foundation, pointing to data collected by SPUSD.
The report, authored by South Pasadena residents John Srebalus, Ella Hushagen and Helen Tran, alleges that the summer school program that SPUSD has opted into has created barriers for some students to stay on track or get ahead due to the tuition that would not exist if the district were to operate its own summer school.
Additionally, the report, which focuses on South Pasadena High School in particular, has indicated that Hispanic students are underrepresented in “advanced” courses and overrepresented in “credit recovery” courses, whereas the opposite was shown for Asian and white students.
In 2018-19 and 2019-20, Asian students taking “advanced” courses made up 49% and 43.9% of classes and white students represented 23.5% and 27.3%. Hispanic students made up only 13.7% and 16.7% of the total.
In those same periods, Hispanic students taking “recovery courses” represented 64% and 45.7%, while Asian students registered 12.2% and 17.4% and white students made up 18.3% and 21.7% of the total.
“There are clear advantages to taking prerequisite, elective and honors courses during the summer,” according to the report. “Students may then explore more career-specific and advanced courses in the fall and spring semesters, resulting in more competitive college applications. High-income students reap the benefits of summer school, while other students must endure financial hardship to pay for summer school to ensure their timely graduation.”
Although there is financial assistance offered by SPEF for families; the advocates said that a public-school education during summer must be free to truly be equitable. The SPEF program, according to the report, only covers 25%-50% of tuition per student, leaving families to foot the remaining cost.
Superintendent Geoff Yantz said SPUSD received an analysis of the SPEF Summer School Program and reviewed its ideas.
“The district understands the concerns and regularly reviews student data to ensure that administrators and educators are cognizant of alleviating racial and ethnic disparities,” Yantz said. “Specific student achievement data presented at the SPUSD December 2021 board meeting details how educators are ensuring student needs are being met during the school year and in the summer.”
Similarly, SPEF said it has read the report and responded that free summer school would only be possible through state funding.
“In the absence of state funding that would allow for high school summer school to be delivered at no cost, SPEF will continue SPEF High School Summer School, along with our programs for elementary and middle school students in the same manner we have done in the past,” the foundation said in a statement.
“That said, we take to heart the feedback that many people are unaware of the funds SPEF sets aside for families who need assistance,” the statement continued.
SPUSD emphasized that it does not receive any annual state funding for summer school, nor is it required by the California Education Code. It did, however, receive a one-time grant to fund summer “credit recovery” courses for SPHS students in 2021, and is expected to cover similar costs in 2022. The district also offers free “credit recovery” courses for students during the school year.
In its response, the district also noted that census data indicates that the most common racial or ethnic group living below the poverty line in South Pasadena is white residents, followed by Asian and then Hispanic residents.
However, one of the report’s co-authors, Srebalus, responded to this claim, clarifying that the district’s census data — collected from Data USA — on those living below the poverty line is skewed because the largest racial or ethnic group in South Pasadena is white.
“In the general population there are more than twice as many non-Latino white residents as Latino residents of all races, and nearly 10 times as many non-Latino white residents as Black residents,” Srebalus said in an email. “Of course, whites are going to have the highest percentage by this meaningless calculation.”
He continued to clarify that the proper measure is the percentage of residents of each race/ethnicity living in poverty: “I pulled the raw census data, which shows that in 2019 (same year as the Data USA figures) Latinos were the group with the highest percentage living below the poverty line (8.2%) while whites were the group with the lowest (6.5%).
“Median household income is not [being considered]. It should be. Here we find Asian residents in 2019 were by far the wealthiest ($125,921), followed by white ($100,707), Latino ($98,485) and Black ($97,786),” he added.
The advocate group said it recommends SPUSD provide free summer courses to all students who received free or reduced-price lunch, without requiring further proof of income by summer 2022; free summer “credit recovery” courses to all students by summer 2023; and tuition-free summer courses to all high school students by 2024.
“We believe in having a school system that promotes race and income equity in education — not just equal opportunity,” the report said. “While the district’s economically tiered and racially segregated summer school system has existed without challenge in the past, this system must immediately change to better serve our increasingly diverse community. At present, South Pasadena is made up of more households that rent and more Asian American, Latinx and mixed-race families than ever before.”