Vivian and her Justin Bieber doll (photo: Dan Honda, Bay Area News Group)
Last month, the Orinda Union School District, a wealthy white educational enclave on the Suisun Bay northeast of San Francisco, gave the 7-year-old Latina daughter of a live-in-nanny until December 5 to leave school after deciding she and her mother do not qualify as residents.
On Friday, after a firestorm of protest, the district had second thoughts. Officials said they would allow the child, Vivian, to remain in the school district if the family that employs the mom agrees to become the kid’s official caregiver. Since they had been fighting to keep the child in school, they gladly agreed. There is no formal appeal process.
The district made its initial decision after hiring a private investigator, who spent two months probing the mysterious presence of a child among them who looked like she didn’t belong. Miriam Storch, the nanny’s employer, said, “Why wouldn't they just come to us and talk to us about it if they had concerns?” It wouldn’t have made any difference.
When Maria, the nanny, was notified that her child was going to get the boot, Miriam wrote a three-page letter detailing how the child lives at her home during the week, but splits time on the weekend staying at the kid’s grandmother’s home in Bay Point on the weekend. The district decided, instead, to recognize the grandmother’s home as residence.
Miriam Storch thinks she knows why. “I don't play the race card lightly, but it's painfully obvious (her school is) all Caucasians,” she said. Fewer than 5% of the students enrolled in the district’s middle schools and four elementary schools last year were Hispanic. Vivian's school had fewer than 4%. Orinda has its own free-lunch program, instead of participating the one from the federal government.
Only eight out of 2,482 students participated, according to state data, and Vivian was not one of the. That’s not for lack of trying, according to the Contra Costa Times. She was turned down twice because the district calculated the rental cost of her place at the Storch’s as $1,700 a month, added that to the mom’s wages and calculated they were way over the the income limit.
The district’s website shows people of color in two of the five photos featured on its website splash page and a lawyer for the school district told the Times that the school definitely does not discriminate.
The nanny probably contributed to her child’s plight inadvertently when a district contractor, pretending to be an insurance investigator, asked her about a fake car accident. She recognized his name as being on restraining-order documents she had served against her former husband, and fearing that her ex was trying to track her down, gave the grandmother’s address as her own.
Face-to-face interviews with the Storch family or their nanny would have made the living situation more clear, if clarity and accuracy were the goals.
The law “permits a school district to deem a pupil to have complied with the residency requirements for school attendance in the district if at least one parent/guardian of the pupil is physically employed within the boundaries of that district. Once admitted to residency, the pupil’s transfer may be revoked only if the parent ceases to be employed within the boundaries of the district.”
That handy tidbit of information was not in the stories written recently by the Contra Costa Times. It was brought up by a commenter in the paper’s November 28 story. An opposing commenter gave the other side of the argument:
“So its not enough for you that the Storches are foisting the cost of educating their help’s dependents on their fellow taxpayers but you now want them to have to pay damages as well? To add insult to injury? What in the sam hill is the matter with you?”
The Storch family pays substantial property taxes on a 4,000-square-foot home they purchased in 2012, a significant portion of which goes to one of California’s finest school districts. One of the reasons the district is that good is an annual $800-per-child suggested donation to the Educational Foundation of Orinda that a lot of parents pay.
Former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich says that is the bigger story: “Education is no longer a gateway into the American middle class. Getting a better education than almost everyone else is the gateway into the American elite.”
The foundation’s website splash page features a three-photo slide show at the top, and the lead photo is of an elementary school girl of color. It is, presumably, not Vivian.