When people think of the Charter School of Wilmington, they think about one of the highest-rated high schools in the state. But beneath the shiny veneer, there is a very dark undertone that is pervasive throughout the school. This became clear to a student who I will call Bill (to protect his identity), and his mother, Michelle (also protecting her identity). Bill’s story is the part about Charter School of Wilmington nobody from the school will admit or own up to: a culture of superiority and class, with very few minorities other than Asians. The very few minorities that are present at the school are few and far between compared to most Delaware schools. For Bill, what happened to him could easily be seen as racial or even class profiling, or both.
Charter School of Wilmington has the following profiles for race: 63.7% White, 26.4% Asian, 6% African-American, 3.3% Hispanic/Latino, .4% American Indian and .3% Hawaiian. For special education they have .2% of their students with an IEP, and no Early Language Learners in attendance. In 2013-2014, no student was held back. For those reading this, if you are not familiar with Wilmington, Delaware, it is a city with racial demographics as follows: 58% African-American, 32% White, 12% Hispanic/Latino, Below 1% for Asian, and Below 1% for Hawaiian. So how does a charter school in Wilmington have such a vast difference in student populations compared to the population of the largest city in Delaware?
While some may call it cherry-picking, others call it enrollment preference, and with CSW, they add the extra layer of “specific interest” for their rigorous academic curriculum. The school was named in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the local school district, Red Clay Consolidated School District, along with the Delaware Department of Education.
Bill belongs to one of the above minorities at CSW. But you wouldn’t know it to look at him. According to his mother Michelle, Bill looks as white as most of the students at the school. What sets him apart is the fact that “he doesn’t fit the mold of the typical CSW student.” He does not come from an affluent family, he lives downstate, he doesn’t comb his hair to the side, he drives a pick-up truck, and he doesn’t dress like his peers. Michelle describes Bill as a young man who is very mechanical and always ready to fix something. Bill is, however, a brilliant young man with a 3.2 grade point average, and he was already accepted to one of the state universities with a scholarship. Bill’s mother also gave permission for me to tell Bill’s story.
On March 26th, 2015, everything changed for Bill. What happened after to Bill was a denial of procedural due process and discrimination. Bill’s mother received a call from the school that afternoon at 2:28 pm to pick up Bill. This is Michelle’s accounting of what happened:
I received a call from Mr. Anderson stating I needed to pick up Bill. He had been involved in incident at school (involving drugs). He would give me more information once I got to the school.
I met at school with Mr. Eddy, Bill and myself. They had him in a back room off the main office where they store books etc. When I walked in he had his head down and was clearly upset. Mr. Eddy explained what had happened. Bill had been accused of selling marijuana to another student. All of his items including his gym bag, book bag and personal items were searched and his phone was confiscated. His phone does not have a security code and many apps were opened that he did not open. Bill was questioned from 1:40 until I was called. I feel it was an extensive length of time based on the fact that he is 17 and no one who represented his best interest was present. The other student that was caught selling/giving/dividing some of what he allegedly obtained from Bill and volunteered the information about Bill and showed him his text messages. He was told if he was honest it would go a long way. I was told that Bill was suspended indefinitely and would have a meeting before the review board some within the next week.
Once we left CSW, Bill and I talked. He said he was getting taped up for his lacrosse game. He (Mr. Eddy) came to the trainer’s room and wanted to know where he had been? He said he left class at 1:10 because he knew he had to get taped up before the game. They told him he had to come with them. Once he got upstairs he said they pulled the “good cop/bad cop” routine. Mr. Paoli was screaming at him, telling him they got him now. He was showing him a cell phone and reading messages dating back to October. He also accused him of not just selling marijuana but pills also. Bill kept saying he had no idea what they were talking about and Dr. Paoli stormed out of the room slamming the door. Then Mr. Eddy started saying things like “we know Bill”, “another student told us” and “we have his phone and text messages”. It was at that point Bill said I want you to call my mom. They said they would but now he needed to talk. They sent someone to the locker room to get his phone. He said around 2:15pm he asked again if anyone had called me and they said Mr. Anderson had and they were waiting on me to arrive however they continued to question him. I am going to remind you the call to me was received at 2:28pm.
Bill was suspended for an entire week before a review meeting was to take place to go over the incident. Michelle described the meeting as follows:
I received a call on Wednesday afternoon, April 1st, 2015, that a review meeting would be tomorrow April 2nd, 2015 at 11:00. Since I work for the district I requested an earlier or later time and was told that or 11:30 was all that was available. It was too late to request a personal day so I had to call out Thursday April 2nd, 2015 to attend the review meeting. Dr. Paoli sat outside of the room at his desk while we walked into the room. The review board consisted of three teachers (Mr. Stella, Miss Volts, Mr. Messinger). Mr. Stella was Bill’s 10th grade math teacher and Mr. Messinger was in charge of the ski trip, both are familiar with Bill. Also present were Mr. Eddy, Bill and I. Mr. Eddy wanted it on the record that although Bill’s phone had been confiscated, they never went through it. Which I find unlikely based on the applications opened. When we were finished he (Dr. Paoli) was still sitting at his desk. Meeting was held from 11:15-11:52. They thanked him for his honesty. They also seemed to understand that everyone makes mistakes and they would not judge him by this one mistake. Mr. Eddy explained the board would make their recommendation and Dr. Paoli would have final say.
Michelle wrote about what happened in the next two weeks.
Thursday April 2nd, 2015, 3:00pm, received call from Mr. Eddy in reference to discipline. Bill is not being expelled but would not be permitted back to campus. His classes will be online and he would not be able to participate in any extracurricular activities, no lacrosse, clubs, prom etc. The good news is he would graduate with a diploma from Charter. When I asked about graduation he reiterated Bill would not be able to participate in any extracurricular activities. However, graduation is not an extracurricular activity. I explained that was not acceptable and requested a meeting with whomever the following week.
I was offered a meeting Thursday April 9th or Friday April 10th. Neither of those was going to work because I was out of town Thursday and had a visit scheduled at U of D Friday. I reached out to Mr. Eddy on Sunday April 12th, 2015 at 12:51. I explained that although I was in agreement with him not being on campus or participating in extracurricular activities. I was not ok with Bill not walking at graduation, and since Dr. Paoli was the final decision, whom could I reach out too above Dr. Paoli? He contacted me to say I needed to meet with Dr. Paoli again and would need to contact Susan Mussacchio at 651-2727 x 201.
Monday April 13, 2015- received call at 7:21am to meet with Dr. Paoli at 3:15pm today. I am unsure why I am meeting with him since he is the overall deciding factor and he made the decision to not allow him to walk at graduation. The reasons I feel he should be permitted to walk at graduation are as follows:
-Graduation is not an extracurricular activity
-If he was not expelled and is getting a high school diploma from Charter he should be able to participate in graduation with his classmates.
-He has met all of the State of Delaware, Board of Education requirements to graduate from a 4 year institution.
-While he understands and accepts full responsibility for his actions, by not allowing him back on campus, not participating in sports or prom, this is more than sufficient.
-In addition to penalizing him at this point, not allowing him to walk during graduation will penalize his entire family.
Monday April 13, 2015 3:34pm- Met with Dr. Paoli and Mr. Eddy in the conference room. Dr. Paoli expressed his discontent that I had the audacity to question why Bill could not walk at graduation. He had a copy of the student handbook which he assured me Bill had. I explained I do not have Bill’s copy and the only online copy was from 2011-2012. He read to me the section about “student caught selling drugs …… would be expelled”. He felt the board and CSW had been very lenient because my son is, and I quote “a known drug dealer”. I wanted to know, known by whom? He said his own admission, text messages and drug money. Drug money? My son had $45 on him. Text messages? Whose? Because they said they didn’t look at his phone. He also proceeded to tell me that if I didn’t accept, they would expel him and he would be out for 180 days, and this year would be a wash. Maybe if another school would accept him he could graduate 2017, and because my son is a “known drug dealer” he is facing criminal charges. According to him, the police were notified and if they have not notified me they will be. I am trying to comprehend how I went before the review board and the focus was no longer on non-monetary restitution, but restoration. Restoration of my son’s character and his reputation, the board agreed he is a good student and athlete. They stated they would not let one incident dictate his four years at the school nor affect his future plans of attending U of D, mechanical engineering, and now today. I am again being told by Dr. Paoli that because my son is a known drug dealer and will have a criminal record his future is at stake. All because I wanted to speak with whoever is above his head about Bill walking at graduation.
Tuesday April 14th, 2015- approximately 9:30am. I received a call from Devon Hynson (Education Voices). We discussed from the beginning what has transpired and he agreed to assist Bill and me. As of this date I have not received any documentation or anything from CSW in writing advising me of the allegations and or disciplinary actions regarding the school, district or board level.
1:23pm- received a call from CSW, which I did not answer and no message was left.
4:57pm- received an email from Mr. Eddy explaining “he felt strongly about the board’s recommendation was fair” and asking me if I had made a decision. He asked me to make a decision by Friday April 17th “so steps could be taken that were in the best interest of both Bill and CSW”.
At this point, Michelle reached out to Hugh Broomall, the Deputy superintendent at the Red Clay Consolidated School District. Charter School of Wilmington is within the confines of Red Clay, and they were the charter authorizer for CSW. She asked Broomall to see if he could intervene with CSW on this matter. He agreed to reach out and see what he could do. After he met with Dr. Paoli, Broomall told Michelle there was nothing Red Clay could do in this situation. By talking to Broomall, Michelle did exactly what Paoli told her not to do, go above him. But Michelle would not bow down to Paoli’s threat against her son.
Devon Hynson is an education advocate in Wilmington. He’s helped many students in education matters, discipline matters and special education. Hynson realized quickly that if Red Clay couldn’t do anything, he would file a complaint with the Delaware State Board of Education. But something happened during this process that changed everything for Bill. This can be read in the official Notice of Appeal which Hynson sent to the Delaware State Board of education on April 28th, 2015. The original names in the document have been edited out for the purposes of this article and changed to Bill and Michelle.
I checked the state code for Delaware, and homebound instruction can be used in suspension or expulsion issues.
Oddly enough, Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy replied to the Notice of Appeal on May 5th, 2015, but the letterhead on the document was that of Teri Quinn Gray, PH. D, President (of the State Board of Education).
Based on the response by Secretary Murphy, Devon Hynson and Michelle have filed an official complaint with the State Board of Education, which was sent to them on May 13th, 2015
Dr. Sam Paoli has been the Head of School at Charter School of Wilmington for two years. Michelle said the prior Head of School, Charles Baldwin, was very pleasant to deal with and found him to be a very compassionate person. She is unable to say the same about Dr. Paoli. In speaking with Michelle, she added some other situations between Dr. Paoli and her son Bill.
Bill had a girlfriend at the school and they broke up. Michelle was called to the school and it was explained to her that Bill was giving the ex-girlfriend a hard time and he could be expelled. Michelle obtained Bill’s phone, went through all the messages, along with a print-out of the text charges to show no texts were deleted, and brought them back to the school. She showed Dr. Paoli that it was the ex-girlfriend giving Bill a hard time, not the other way around.
Michelle also said whenever Bill drove his pick-up truck to school, he was not allowed to park it in the regular parking lot and had to use a parking lot away from the school to park his truck. She explained Bill has received a rough time from Dr. Paoli the past two years, and feels he is targeted by him. She is not sure why, other than the fact that Bill doesn’t fit in with the typical CSW student. She has another son who has straight A’s. He applied to CSW and was put on a wait list. Michelle feels this was retaliation for Bill’s experiences at the school. But she added that was okay, because she wouldn’t have to deal with Dr. Paoli ever again after this year.
All Michelle and Bill want is for Bill to walk at graduation. He made a mistake, as the school pointed out, and Michelle believes he has paid the price. While she doesn’t know the exact discipline of the other three students, she knows one was suspended like Bill and drugs were found in that student’s possession. The other two are still on campus and one of them is not allowed to play lacrosse. She was told by CSW that Bill is not allowed to have contact with any of the other students which Michelle found very puzzling.
She views Bill’s time at CSW under Dr. Paoli as an era of bullying and discrimination. Not by other students, but by the Head of School. She can’t understand why Bill seems to be hated so much by Dr. Paoli, she just wants her son to walk at graduation. The next move is up to the Delaware State Board of Education.
In reviewing both the and the for CSW, I see no mention of Due Process rights for a student or parent to appeal any decision made by the school against a student aside from the Review Board which must meet with the student or parent within 24-48 hours of a serious offense. In Bill’s case, they did not meet for almost 7 calendar days. Nor does it give any mention how CSW automatically reverts to Red Clay Consolidated School District for these types of actions. In fact, there are no links to any Red Clay Consolidated policies anywhere on their website. But in 16.7 in the Board of Director bylaws, it does state the Board, in carrying out it’s responsibilities, is accountable to the State of Delaware and the Red Clay Consolidated School District. Since the President (Paoli), answers to the Board, and the Board answers to Red Clay and the State of Delaware, I’m pretty sure one of those two parties could make a determination on this issue. Especially since Michelle has yet to receive anything in writing about the nature of the incident. I’m pretty sure the responsibilities of the school and how they handle discipline issues should not include interrogations, threatening parents, and not misleading parents about school policies.
In the meantime, Bill will continue to stay home the next few weeks and hopefully he will be able to walk with his classmates at the Graduation ceremony on June 5th. Either way, some will view Bill’s story as discrimination, whether it was his minority status or the lack of his looking like the CSW “model student perception”.
**Updated**10:04pm: Editor’s note: I did not write this story to condone Bill’s actions. He made a mistake. This is not a matter of debate. He owned up to it, received his punishment, and is serving that punishment. This story is about how the school handled it. Like any regular court case, if due process is not followed, it is usually thrown out or a verdict of not guilty is rendered. We can all rush to judgment very easily on Bill’s actions, but this is something I’m sure he is doing every day. There is a history, both with Bill and with the school’s populace of a certain type of student that flies in the face of every single civil rights legislation. Some may say the school was doing Bill a favor by not expelling him. I tend to think, and this is just my opinion, that the school was covering their own reputation and did not want an expulsion showing up. There was no evidence of any marijuana actually found on Bill, and two of the four boys involved have been reported to still be going to the school and are on campus. These are the facts this story is delving into, not what Bill did. Sadly, based on what Bill’s mother told me, there is a history of Bill having a target on him by Dr. Paoli. In my eyes, these matters are the heart of this story. I welcome debate on this issue, but if anyone names the student or leaves a trail of breadcrumbs that leads back to him, the comments will be deleted.
**Updated**5/20/15: I have received many comments on this from what I believe to be coming from CSW affiliated parents, staff, ex-students and pro-CSW supporters with some misleading information and slanted views. All of which state my views are slanted. This article is under severe moderation and has been the past few days. My comments yesterday afternoon concerning this case have been deleted as they were inaccurate given the big picture of this story. It’s not often where one of my articles becomes a part of the story, but it has happened in this case. All views can be heard, but under a very close watch by yours truly. Thank you.