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Abuse Accusations, Criticism of Curriculum Swirl at Chrysalis School : Education: Enrollment has plunged at girls' academy afer parents hold meetings. Despite setbacks, founder Julia Margaux says she will not close the campus.


Kristina Czech thought she found an elementary heaven when she first brought her 7-year-old daughter to the Chrysalis School for Girls in Long Beach.

Instead of the hurly-burly of public schools, Czech saw small classrooms of neatly uniformed children. And there were only girls--girls who wouldn't be overlooked in favor of boys, she thought.

There was a feeling of family among the school's students, parents and founder Julia Margaux, parents said.

But the school that began with high hopes just 16 months ago has suffered a number of setbacks. Some parents said they had seen Margaux treat girls roughly and use harsh language. Czech said she saw the headmistress grab a girl by the arms, shake her and yell in her face. Rumors flew that her curriculum wasn't up to par.

After two parent meetings last month, in which Margaux was not invited, parents pulled several children out of the school.

Margaux says she has yelled at students at times to keep them from hurting themselves or others. But she denied parents' allegations of harsh discipline. "I understand their fears, even though I'm not a parent," Margaux said. "But there have been a lot of rumors going around and most of them just aren't true."

Margaux also disagrees with her critics over the school's enrollment, and how many students have departed. Margaux says 29 of the school's 47 students departed. Parents said the school's enrollment was 54, and that about 40 children have left.

Some facts are not in dispute.

Parents of a former Chrysalis student filed a police report in August, accusing Margaux of child cruelty for spanking their daughter during a birthday party in a private home. The Long Beach city prosecutor's office declined to file charges, however, saying there was insufficient evidence.

Margaux said the child had become incorrigible at the party. "I did swat her on the butt two or three times. And then I told her that she was going to behave and have a good time," Margaux said. "After that she was just fine. She stayed at the party and had fun."

While Margaux believes she handled the August incident well, word of the complaint spread among parents as school began. Parents then began to tell each other of additional incidents in which Margaux allegedly was seen yelling at children or shaking them.

"(Margaux) is very charismatic, but then she would flip and become abusive and the kids were really confused," said parent Sirri Hanson, who added that her daughter had complained that Margaux berated her in front of the class for missing words on a spelling test.

On Dec. 1, a meeting of parents was called. Some said Margaux routinely belittled pupils. They also said that in Margaux's classroom, composed of fourth- to eighth-graders, all students studied from the same American History workbook. Parents praised the three other permanent teachers. Margaux defended the school's curriculum, thrusting several different texts and workbooks at a visitor as proof of the girls' well-rounded education. Margaux, who received a bachelor of arts degree in international business from San Francisco State University, said she relied on others with degrees in education to design the curriculum. She also taught at an area Montessori school and the Huntington School in Long Beach before opening Chrysalis.

After the Dec. 1 meeting, some children were pulled out of school. By the time students returned from the holidays, enrollment had dropped to 18, Margaux said. Parent Donna Banks said she's seen student lists, however, that show Chrysalis dropped from a high of 54 students to 12.

"I was so sure that (Chrysalis) was the greatest school in the world," said Banks, who withdrew her 6-year-old daughter.

Most parents who withdrew their children plan to start their own school, tentatively named Laurel Crest Girls' School, in a Belmont Heights neighborhood a few blocks from the Chrysalis site. They have hired two former Chrysalis teachers. As with Chrysalis, the new school will offer ballet and French in addition to traditional studies. Parents involved in organizing Laurel Crest, which will have 20 students, said they would not return their children to public schools.

For Margaux, the rumors and sudden drop in enrollment have been a strain. Margaux said she feels personally attacked. She has replaced the two teachers who departed for the new school, and has been forced to lay off a math teacher and a part-time ballet instructor. But she has no plans to close. She said that with 18 students she can pay the bills. Tuition is $400 a month.

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