Washington’s First Charter School Stumbles, On Probation

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A new series of deadlines has been released by a Washington State commission overseeing charter schools in the hopes of improving the state’s first charter school, First Place Scholars, which has struggled since opening in September.

An interim special education director must be hired by January 5 to replace a contractor who had previously quit in October.  There are currently no teachers in the school qualified to work with the two dozen students who qualify for help with special needs. The school was also required to describe how it has been meeting the needs of its special education students since the contractor quit.

The deadlines come as a part of the ongoing negotiations between the commission and the charter school after the commission denied the school’s improvement plan two weeks ago.  The school had not turned in its request on time, nor did it address most of the concerns raised by the commission, according to a letter sent to the school by the commission.

As a result of the rejection the school was placed on probation.  Commission staff will be making visits to the school each month to ensure that the charter, which allows the school to operate as a publicly funded, privately run school, is being followed.

“We’re going to be monitoring this incredibly closely,” Joshua Halsey, executive director of the Joshua Halsey, executive director of the Washington State Charter School Commission, said in an interview Wednesday. “We want the school to meet the deadlines. We want them to come back into compliance.”

Since classes started in September the school has faced a number of issues, including the loss of a principal, board president, and half of the remaining board, in addition to the special education consultant.  Other issues at the school discovered by the commission ranged from out-of-date fire drill plans to staff members working without background checks.

The commission must be petitioned by the school if it would like to ease the oversight, although that is not expected to happen for at least three months.  Halsey added that if missed deadlines become an issue, other corrective actions may need to be considered, including the possible revoking of the school’s charter, writes Leah Todd for The Seattle Times.

The commission will also be designating someone to look at the school’s learning plans.  It will then be decided if special education students are in need of additional services to make up for the time they lost this year.  According to federal law, disabled students are required to receive needed services.

The school will also be required to provide proof that staff members who have not undergone a background check are not working alone with the children.  The commission found that the school’s classroom assistants, business manager, nurse, receptionist, food service manager and all of the board members currently do not have completed background checks.

The one part of the school’s corrective action plan that was accepted was its promise to update school calendars to comply with the state’s minimum of 180 school days.