Philadelphia Charter School Closes Abruptly

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To the great surprise of the School District of Philadelphia and families, a K-8 charter school with two campuses notified parents that it would be closing its doors last week, writes Jeremy Roebuck for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Because of financial problems, Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School administrators posted a notice on the school’s website telling parents and students that the school would close immediately. A letter contained information on how they could re-enroll their children in other schools, such as neighborhood, public, charter, cyber, or private.

The following Saturday, school officials had still not contacted the district, according to district spokesperson Fernando Gallard. Although the school’s teachers received their checks on Dec. 5, they were told the money would not be immediately available.

Walter D. Palmer, the school’s founder, said the delay on reaching out to the district was  a “timing issue.” The school’s budget was cut drastically this year because of failure to make payments to the state teachers pension program, and it is paying off a court judgement of $1.5 million for collecting money for students who were enrolled in the school without the proper authorization.

“The School District is ready to assist parents and students with transition to public schools,” Gallard said Saturday. “The School District has set up a dedicated website for Walter Palmer parents to assist them with the transition process. Parents can access it through the district’s website at www.philasd.org.”

According to David Chang of NBC Philadelphia, the school’s closure comes only two months after closing its high school at another location.

“This man Mr. Palmer is a piece of work,” said Rashida Jabbar, whose grandson attended the middle school. “He waited until school was on break to let us know that school was closed. It’s so sad. I cried for my grandson and other children, because here we go again.”

First, Mr. Jabbar’s 9th grade grandson’s high school closed, now his 8th grade grandson’s school has closed. The letter stated that many hours were spent by the Board of Trustees trying to review other options. Finally, said the letter, for the good of the students, it was best to close the school. The notice continued claiming that the school sent a letter to the Philadelphia School District in early November asking superintendent William Hite to meet with the school community.

 “This letter was sent with the specific purpose of communicating to everyone that it was the SRC [School Reform Commission]and Dr. Hite’s intentions to continue to deduct our school’s funding each month until they forced the school with only the option to close,” Dr. Palmer said. “We asked for this meeting in hopes that we could have met before the Thanksgiving and winter holidays to address the School District of Philadelphia’s intentions. However, Dr. Hite, to date, has not responded to my written request to meet with the Leadership family and community.”

Gallard said the district did respond to the charter on several occasions and the deductions were in response to a court order. He added that district officials are trying to reach Palmer to see if there is a way they can be of assistance. In October, the district fought to revoke the school’s charter not only because of financial concerns, but academic performance, as well. During a November hearing, officials of the charter refused to answer questions concerning school issues 77 times, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights.

Gallard made it clear to parents that their children would be accepted immediately into the PSD, even without transcripts. The district is concerned about getting access to student’s records from the Palmer school, since it was difficult to do so when the high school closed.

Palmer has been criticized for nepotism and inflated salaries for years. His daughter earned $50,000 a year as a pre-K instructor. His son, says Erin Arvedlund, reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer, worked in student support and earned $72,000 in one year. His non-profit, the Palmer Foundation, earned $180,000 for “curriculum development” it supplied the Palmer schools.

Two days after the closing of the Palmer school was closed, six kids, 10 – 12 -years-old, reportedly broke into the school and stole classroom objects, and will be charged with trespassing. David Chang of NBC Philadelphia, says the children were not students at the school.