The last two blogs were about the successes of strong advocates for public education winning elections across the country. Meanwhile… the charter scandals continue.
FLORIDA – At the Mater Academy charter school in Hialeah Gardens, a history teacher hung a confederate flag banner in a classroom. A spokesperson for the Florida Charter School Alliance claimed the “Keep It Flying” banner was simply a part of an advanced-placement history lesson.
According to the Miami New Times students said although the flag was placed on the wall as part of a lesson, the teacher has taught far-right views before, including stating that the Confederacy was fighting for ‘states’ rights’ and that the North ‘should have lost the war’. According to Lynn Norman-Teck, executive director of the nonprofit alliance, the ‘flag, along with images of heroes from the civil rights movement, were used as part of an AP American History class lesson and was ‘not part of the classroom decor (Miami New Times). Norman-Teck also stressed that the photo was taken out of context and that the flag was placed on the wall only to spark discussion among the students. Well, it worked.
VIRGINIA – According to a report by a nonprofit law firm Public Advocates, seven charter schools in Richmond were among 43 charter schools in the state found to have faulty records for funds generated by high needs students (Richmond Confidential). The report revealed 10% of students in the Virginia attend charter schools, and receive $3.4 billion from a five-year local funding plan to improve school services and programs. Of these funds $900 million are used by high needs students (Richmond Confidential). “The report shows inconsistencies in documents submitted by the seven charter schools. They claimed to have budgeted a total of $2.9 million in the past academic year, but the schools collectively received $4.9 million from the government that same year” (Richmond Confidential). Tana Montiero, School Engagement Coordinator of Richmond College Prep Schools said, “I feel strongly that there wasn’t any lack of use of funds. We struggled in describing where the funds went because our focus is not on capturing the data, but it’s on the kids.” Right.
MASSACHUSETTS – The Boston Globe reported The Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy in Dorchester made more than $126,000 in credit card charges, and former executive director Karmala Sherwood used school funds to pay her mortgage. Sherwood said she accidentally used school funds to pay her mortgage in November 2016, saying that she uses the same bank as the school. She did not reimburse the school until June 2017.
Further investigation revealed the school used funding to cover a $117,000 sick-time payout to their retiring executive rather than hiring two special education professionals to work with students. “The state Inspector General’s Office faulted the school last month for giving Sherwood excessive pay raises and other benefits, enabling her to retire in 2017 with $380,000 in salary, benefits, and payments, including the sick time buyout that violated terms of her contracts. She is now living on a $12,347 monthly pension from the Massachusetts Teachers Retirement System, while she continues to work for the charter school as an $80,000-a-year consultant (Boston Globe). That’s quite a gig.
MICHIGAN – Thomas Barnes, a first-year art teacher at Benton Harbor Charter School Academy, was arrested on November 6th and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. An internal investigation found that Barnes lost his temper and threw a chair in his classroom when some of his students were playing around in class. The chair hit a sixth-grade child’s leg and that child’s parents filed a complaint. The principal, Tim Harris, said he “does not believe Barnes intended to hit anyone with the chair (Herald Palladium). What did he think would happen?
COLORADO – Victory Preparatory Academy in Commerce City is facing a federal lawsuit as parents and students said the school’s Chief Executive Officer, Ron Jajdelski, suspended the entire student body. The lawsuit states students at Victory Preparatory had their First Amendment rights violated during a school assembly. After standing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, students chose not to recite the school’s own pledge “in protest of certain Victory Prep policies and practices”. Jajdelski was openly frustrated with students’ multiple grievances so he sent 120 students home; everyone in the ninth through 12th grades (9news.com).
Joel Flores and his wife, Mary, have a 17-year-old son who is a junior. Commerce City police officers were at the school when they went to pick him up, so Flores asked the police for permission to speak with Jajdelski about why their kids were being sent home, but Jajdelski refused to meet with anyone. The couple is now part of a federal class-action lawsuit against the school’s administration claiming the school violated the students’ First Amendment rights by sending every student home after the protest.
Nicholas Lutz, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, including the Flores family said,”You know, whether or not it’s widely believed, students in school continue to have constitutional rights. This was a wholesale violation of their constitutional rights” (9news.com).
These stories strike me not only because they continue to paint the portrait of so many corrupt and unaccountable charter schools, but also because of the ridiculous defense the administrators claim. These stories add to my growing list of blogs on charter school headlines. You can read others here, here, and here. Where is the accountability?
These are my reflections for today.
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