California Cartwheel

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

One would think that crime and drugs would rank as the most alarming external scourges that threaten the learning environment and alarm public school administrators, particularly in California.

Thus, it comes as something of a surprise that the Edison charter school in West Covina, Ca. would suspend an 11-year-old girl for doing cartwheels. Moreover, the sixth-grader was not disrupting a class and trying to recreate a movie moment.

Rather, Diedra Faegre, a budding gymnast, was doing cartwheels during the lunch period. “My daughter is not a navy recruit bound by military orders in wartime,” her outraged father says.

“She is not in open rebellion against constituted authority. She is a bright, energetic girl doing what normal kids do in a free country.”

Diedra’s father, Leland, has run for political office as a libertarian candidate. Leland Faegre lists his occupations as stockbroker and musician. His web site features some of his compositions.

Leland Faegre notes with pride that his daughter received the student of the month award in October of this year for “academic performance and courage.” Diedra performed her cartwheel on the Tuesday before the Veterans Day holiday. She was then told that she was suspended the following day.

But, with the bureaucracy that not even charter schools such as Edison’s can escape, Diedra then had to spend the remainder of Tuesday filling out the forms for her own suspension. The West Covina Unified School district, of which the Edison charter school that Diedra attends is a part, sits about a half an hour outside of Los Angeles.

The district superintendent of West Covina, Richard Vladovic, who supports Diedra’s suspension, has won awards. He can boast of rising test scores in the district and has called for the reinstitution of Algebra I in high schools.

Although the latter move may appear benign, the effort comes after many districts, particularly in California, dropped Algebra. When school administrators reintroduced the subject, they offered it as an elective, not a requirement.

For his part, Leland Faegre has few problems with the school academically. “We haven’t been disaffected by the curricula,” he says.

As a charter school, Edison is known for being more demanding of both the work and the conduct of its students. For example, although students at that Edison school are not required to wear uniforms, they must rely on the school’s colors in choosing their apparel.

Unsure of what action that they will take next and not ruling out potential responses to the school’s act, “The Cartwheel Caper,” as Leland Faegre calls it, has dimmed the enthusiasm of both father and daughter for the West Covina Edison school. “Free time is ‘your time,’” says Leland Faegre, “be it for the student or the teacher.”

The Edison schools, founded by businessman Christopher Whittle, are a network of charter schools across the United States. Whittle has had remarkable success in turning around failing school districts, most notably in Philadelphia, Pa.