"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Dirty and Dangerous Secrets of The Classical Academy of Colorado Springs

Below is an example of what can happen when school corporations, non-profit or for-profit, are given free rein to operate schools as they see fit, without the regulations and oversight of publicly-elected officials charged with the effective, efficient, and ethical operation of schools in ways that protect students, parents, and teachers from the abuses of school CEOs and corporate boards that operate with the same level of transparency as the Wall Street casino capitalists who inspired this whole corporate welfare charter movement to begin with.

What did it take to finally get someone to look into this? Parents had to go to the Colorado State Department of Education. The story from the Colorado Springs Gazette, and below that relevant sections of the Report, available here.

SUE McMILLIN
May 8, 2009 - 8:51AM
Complaints that The Classical Academy's insular community created an environment where racism and religious intolerance were allowed to go unchecked raises questions about whether the charter school is welcoming to all students, according to a report released Friday.

The report to the Colorado Department of Education, triggered by parents' complaints, also found fault with the school's accounting practices, noted possible conflicts of interest with administrators who run a charter-school consulting business on the side and said the school failed to properly respond to allegations of sexual and physical assaults and bullying.

It concluded that while the school has high academic achievement, the "investigation revealed major areas of concern about management, safety and security of students."

TCA President Mark Hyatt said he welcomed the scrutiny because outside recommendations can help make the school better.

"I think there are some very positive things that can come out of this," Hyatt said. "The fact that we've already started some of these things confirms that we're on the right track."

The CDE paid independent consultant James Sauls, of Colorado Springs, $9,500 to look into allegations made against the TCA by parents who said they turned to the state because the school and Academy School District 20 ignored their issues. TCA is a D-20 charter school with about 2,900 students on three campuses.

Hyatt said the school recently had several workshops and speakers on character and inclusiveness and just this week had a training session with Safe 2 Tell on reporting procedures. Safe 2 Tell is a statewide hotline where people can anonymously report threatening behavior.

Hyatt also said that he believes administrators and the board do a good job of listening to parents' concerns but that sometimes parents don't like the outcome of those discussions.

But parent Lisa Reece said the school sometimes ignores issues - and the law. She reported in October 2005 that her then-10-year-old daughter had been sexually assaulted at the elementary school.

After repeated inquiries with TCA's elementary school principal about what was being done, Reece said she went to a D-20 administrator in April 2006 when she learned it had not been reported to the police.

Friday's report said TCA failed to follow procedures regarding reports of sexual and physical assaults. In the Reece case, the report said, there was no evidence that an in-house investigation had been conducted, as school officials claimed. The police investigation was inconclusive, the report said.

"I definitely feel vindicated," Reece said Friday. "I feel my daughter has been vindicated.

The principal was so worried about TCA's image that she jeopardized my daughter's safety."

Hyatt said the principal and a school psychologist investigated the assault and determined that no crime had been committed, so they didn't report it to police. . . .
From the Report:
INQUIRY AND INVESTIGATION INTO
AREAS OF CONCERNS LODGED
BY PARENTS AND FORMER TEACHERS
LODGED AGAINST THE LEADERSHIP OF
THE CLASSICAL ACADEMY


The Organizational Effectiveness Consultants of Colorado Springs were contacted on 19 March 2009 by Deputy Commissioner, Dr. Ken Turner, of the Colorado Department of Education to discuss conducting an inquiry into several concerns that surfaced in Academy School District Twenty’s Charter School, The Classical Academy. Parents and former teachers of The Classical Academy provided CDE with concerns in six general areas in which an investigation could be conducted by the Department. The complainants assert that TCA leadership:

• Failed to take appropriate corrective action in responding to and halting a pattern of racial and religious discrimination, sexual and physical assault, bullying of students and parents, drug and alcohol use, and threats against staff and students.

• Failed to acknowledge and halt a pattern of cover up and retaliation by TCA staff in response to complaints lodged by TCA students and parents.

• Failed to exercise appropriate oversight and show good faith when investigating reported improprieties.

• Failed to eliminate conflicts of interest.

• Failed to demonstrate financial transparency and implement adequate financial controls.

• Failed to demonstrate adequate accountability, maintain open records, and provide the public with access to documents and information.

. . . .

FINDINGS

The Classical Academy, a Charter School of Academy School District 20, is a school that is providing an excellent academic curriculum to the students in its charge. The school’s standards of high academic achievement equal or exceed other charter schools in the state. The faculty and staff are competent and have the experience to provide adequate supervision and educational programs for students to learn. However, this investigation revealed major areas of concern about management, safety and security of students and are itemized below.

Board of Directors: This investigation revealed that the Board of Directors seldom visits the classrooms of the schools (except for their individual children’s rooms). Their once per month meeting does not provide its constituents with concise information whether good or bad thus giving the impression that “something is being held back from the patrons.” The Board purports to assist “parents” but in practice appears to mean only those who are “loyal” to th administration of the school. The Board appears to be unaware of or unable to resolve the bullying issue in the schools. The Board is a reactionary agency and not a proactive agency that provide policies which are preventative or prescriptive in nature to provide for the safety and security of all students. This Board’s concern for racial and sexual equality is suspect as there appears to be little concern about providing guidelines for ethnic minority hiring in the schools.

TCA Leadership: Failed to take appropriate corrective action in responding to and halting a pattern of racial discrimination. There is little indication that diversity of thought for other ethnic groups, their heritage, ideas or values in an educational setting is a part of the goals of the school. The question is whether the school is creating an environment that is hospitable to all students. Do the behaviors of staff, (including hiring process) reflect a desire to have a diverse faculty? The leadership purports to espouse character building as one of its prime goals, and appears to do a commendable job in this area, however, it brings into question their commitment to respecting differences. ASD 20 AND TCA BOARD WILL WANT TO FOLLOW UP ON CONCERNS THAT EMERGED IN THE AREA OF RACIAL,DISCRIMINATION REGARDING HIRING.

Failed to take appropriate corrective action in a timely manner in responding to sexual and physical assaults. Law enforcement officials were not notified of an alleged assault on a female student by her male classmate in a timely fashion. School officials did not follow proper protocol and allegedly conducted an in-house investigation which was never found. TCA BOARD MAY WANT TO FOLLOW UP BY MONITORING HOW WELL PROCEDURES ARE FOLLOWED IN THE AREA OF SEXUAL AND PHYSICAL ASSAULTS IN TCA.

Failed to take appropriate corrective action in responding to and halting a pattern of bullying of parents and students. Two elementary principals and one high school principal were accused of verbal abuse to three parent volunteers and one tutor during meetings with them at separate meetings called by the principals. Two were afraid and were driven to tears because of the outburst. ASD 20 AND TCA BOARD WILL WANT TO FOLLOW UP ON CONCERNS THAT EMERGED IN THE AREA OF EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION OF SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS.

Failed to take appropriate corrective action in responding to a pattern of drug and alcohol use. NO CONCERN EMERGED THAT WARRANTS FOLLOW UP INVESTIGATION BY THE DISTRICT.

Failed to take appropriate corrective action in responding to and halting a pattern of threats against students and parents. There were two teachers who were “threatened” by students of TCA. Threat assessment teams conducted threat assessments in accordance with school policy. In one instance the teacher was not satisfied with the team’s results, but the team deemed the threat to be of a low level of probability, this was verified by the police incident report. The second case was satisfactorily handled by the threat assessment team and police report supported the team’s assessment. A brick with a note attached was thrown through the window of a TCA family’s home. Investigation made with no arrests made. The family continually felt “harassed” by persons in the community. TCA WILL WANT TO FOLLOW UP ON CONCERNS THAT EMERGED IN THE AREA OF THREAT ASSESSMENT AND FOLLOW THROUGH.

Failed to acknowledge and halt a pattern of cover up and retaliation by staff in response to complaints lodged by TCA students and parents. Although six parents/volunteers provided this investigation with their perception of this concern, none could cite actual examples where retribution was a fact. At a Board of Directors meeting in February 2008, complainants provided an example of taunting, disrespect, and jeering by other patrons in attendance when a parent gave her comments about the retaliation her daughter had experienced by her peers. TCA BOARD WILL WANT TO FOLLOW UP ON CONCERNS THAT EMERGED IN THE AREA OF CHARACTER BUILDING FOR STAFF, PARENTS, VOLUNTERS AND OTHER ADULTS OF THE SCHOOL.

Failed to exercise appropriate oversight and show good faith when investigating reported improprieties. The Board did not follow its own policy when information was brought to their attention regarding a possible sexual and physical assault on a female student in 2006. TCA BOARD WILL WANT TO FOLLOW UP ON CONCERN THAT EMERGED IN THE AREA OF SUPERVISION OVERSIGHT OF REPORTED IMPROPRIETIES.

Failed to eliminate conflicts of interest. Two employees of TCA charged personal business expenses to their school accounts while on business trips to promote their business. Business cards were also made in their offices using school computers. There was no repayment made to the school. ASD 20 AND TCA BOARD WILL WANT TO FOLLOW UP ON CONCERN THAT EMERGED IN THE AREA OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST.

Failed to demonstrate financial transparency and implement adequate financial controls and the concern that TCA leadership failed to demonstrate adequate accountability, maintain open records, and provide the public with access to documents and information. This investigation could not ascertain the depth of this concern. TCA policy of providing patrons access to the financial records and publishing monthly reports for public use is practiced.

NOTE: The essence of these concerns is fraught with much skepticism and half-facts. The information gathered by the investigation appears to contain the proper documentation required in accordance with State Finance Statutes; however, the practices of the principal officials are vague and misleading. A former TCA parent alleged that there is a commingling of PTO funds with Titan Trust Funds which are controlled by the TCA Building Corp. Investigators were provided with the Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws of the TCA Building Corp, but it did not provide information on the accountability of the funds cited above. (See Appendix C) This investigation could not ascertain the depth of this concern. TCA policy of providing patrons access to the financial records and publishing monthly financial reports is practiced.

Did a pattern emerge whereby the administration, staff, and /or board applied discretion in a way that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that a duty to care was ignored or that concerns were unreasonably minimized? YES. The investigation took testimony from fifty-one respondents, four for a second interview. Of these, the majority support the claims of failure on the part of the TCA leadership. Investigator received another twelve unsolicited telephone requests for interviews from persons wishing to be interviewed if they could be assured that their information would remain anonymous. No assurance could be given thus interviews were not taken from them. Interviews were also conducted with two former students and one present student, who accompanied their parents to their interview. One student was interviewed telephonically with permission from parents but was not able to provide any information on the investigation. Nine parents were contacted to gain permission to interview their student. Only one responded and that was a negative response. Others did not acknowledge or return telephone messages.

Is there sufficient policy guidance at the district or school level? YES. However, it is the opinion of this investigator, follow through to ensure that policy implementation is adhered to is lacking until a situation occurs that warrants an investigation or inquiry.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:04 PM

    Love the site...but one of my pet peeves is above. It's rein -- the ones you use to control a horse (or to not control it, in this case) -- not reign like you do over a country.

    http://hubpages.com/hub/Is-it-Free-Rein-or-Free-Reign-or-even-Free-Rain

    ReplyDelete