Property owner Grace Brethren Church has decided to abruptly evict a private Christian elementary school, preschool and extended day-care of 43 years in Bixby Knolls while agreeing to move in a new public charter middle school on campus.
Grace Christian Schools, located at 3601 Linden Ave. on the church’s property, has provided a Christian-based educational program for children in preschool and K through 6th grade, serving Long Beach and surrounding areas continuously since 1969, according to the school’s website.
Parents, however, said they received letters last month that the Christian school would be closing its doors and must vacate the church’s premises by Aug. 1. School employees were also given notices.
“I am very saddened and disappointed by the school closing,” said Linda Carter, a preschool teacher who has taught at the school for nearly 10 years. “I am currently looking for employment.”
Some parents said tensions at the school had been running high for months after a decision by church administrators to allow a new public charter middle school, called Intellectual Virtues Academy (IVA), to move in. All but two members of IVA’s board are members of the church, according to IVA members.
The new magnet middle school plans to open by Sept. 6, starting with about 50 students split between two 6th-grade classes. IVA’s plans were approved last year by the Long Beach Unified School District, and the goal is to eventually have 6th through 8th grades.
Funded through a $1-million grant project at Loyola Marymount University and sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, the charter school considers itself a “grassroots development of parents, educators and community leaders,” and education is based on a set of core “virtues,” such as open-mindedness and curiosity.
IVA is a tuition-free public school in which students are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. If more students apply than there are spaces available, students will be admitted by lottery.
In May, IVA Principal Jacquie Bryant assured that she was planning to meet with school officials to make sure the two schools would co-exist on separate campuses with different bell schedules and lunch breaks to avoid any conflicts. It appears, however, plans have since changed.
Grace Christian Schools Principal Pearlie Davis confirmed that the school is closed and would not be reopening, however she did not elaborate further on the subject. “I just wanted to announce that Grace Christian has ceased operations,” she said. “That’s all I wanted to say.”
Rebecca Irwin, an IVA spokesperson, said IVA board members and representatives had nothing to do with the Christian school’s closure. “It isn’t within our authority to make any decisions for what they choose to do with their property,” she said.
Even though a majority of IVA board members attend the church, Irwin added that religious affiliation is not a requirement for hiring staff or appointing board members at the charter school. “That’s not important to us,” she said.
Vivian Malauulu, whose two sons were enrolled at Grace Christian with one in kindergarten and the other going into the 3rd grade, said she was frustrated that the school is being forced out without any commemoration or graduation ceremony for children.
“I’m very disappointed,” she said. “Our frustration is not with the school, it’s with the church… There was no conference, no farewell, no goodbye; there was nothing.”
Malauulu said Grace Christian’s closure, however, wasn’t entirely a surprise. During meetings with other parents and school officials it became clear that church administrators wanted to change the church’s direction, both financially and philosophically, she said.
Malauulu said the reason for the school’s closure was partly financial since “private schools make much less money” than charter schools that receive both public funds and private donations.
Malauulu, who is now transferring her children to another Christian school, also said the church’s pastor Lou Huesmann “does not approve of private schooling” and preaches that Christian children should be out witnessing to other children and shouldn’t be secluded. She added, however, that many children of different Christian denominations attended the school.
Nevertheless, Malauulu said the closure is a major loss for the community, adding that her oldest daughter who is now 13 went to Grace from preschool to 6th grade and her second daughter would be attending 6th grade. She said many parents in the local area once went to the school and had enrolled their children.
Malauulu said her family has helped with fundraisers and the annual jog-a-thon to raise thousands of dollars each year that helped pay for field trips and classroom supplies. She said 5th-grade tuition was $6,000 a year and 6th-grade tuition was $7,000 a year. “For all of the family, personally, it’s just sad,” Malauulu said.
Church administrators, including Pastor Huesmann and Director of Facilities Ben Lozada, did not return phone calls or emails by the Signal Tribune before press time.