Parents Told They Can’t Record Board Meeting Tonight At Academia Antonia Alonso

NoAudioOrVideoRecordingAllowed

Tonight, a Delaware charter school refused parents the ability to record their board meeting.  A group of parents attended the Academia Antonia Alonso Board of Directors meeting to give public comment about what they felt was unfair termination of many teachers at the school.  They wanted to record the meeting but were told they could not.  Even though charter schools are technically corporations, they still have to abide by public meeting laws in Delaware.  And in Delaware, all you have to do is advise someone you are recording a meeting.  You do not need their consent.

Charter schools in Delaware are not unionized, therefore they can hire and fire at will without any protection whatsoever for the teachers.  While one would hope charter administrators use a common sense approach in making these decisions, some charters have been known for running their schools like a dictatorship.  Some charters have fired a teacher over something as small as questioning a policy.  When this happens as often as it has at Academia Antonia Alonso this school year, sooner or later parents will begin to notice and question it themselves.  What charter boards fail to understand is they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for a parent’s ability to make a choice.  What kind of message does that send when a parent is denied the simple freedom of recording a meeting when they don’t even need their consent?

Censored

House Bill 61, the school board recording bill, is awaiting a full vote by the Delaware Senate.  It passed the Delaware House last year.  Since then, many reports have come out about charter school fraud.  The bill is a no-brainer!  This is just another reason why this bill needs to pass.  Denying a parent of a choice is never a smart thing to do, especially when it comes to education.  For a parent to even attend a board meeting is a feat in itself.  They should be happy they have parent engagement.  I can only think of one reason a board wouldn’t want a public meeting to be heard.  And it isn’t because they don’t want parents to hear a great meeting.  They don’t want something getting out.  While the school did allow the parents to give public comment at two minutes each, will their concerns be put in the board minutes for the meeting?

What makes this more interesting is the amount of parent input they had for their recent major modification that passed the Delaware State Board of Education last week.  They had to solicit parents to comment on that publicly.  But when the parent’s want to talk about something the school doesn’t want out there, they don’t want the public to hear that.

Academia Antonia Alonso currently resides in the Community Education Building in Wilmington.  The State Board of Education approved their major modification request to move to one of the buildings owned by Odyssey Charter School at Barley Mill Plaza.  The charter school has gone through three heads of school since they opened in August of 2014, in less than two years.  They were placed on formal review before they even opened based on low enrollment.  They got out of formal review with a probation and got their enrollment up to what their charter was approved for.  In the 2014-2015 Charter School Performance Framework, the school met the standard for their financial framework but was labeled as does not meet standard for their organizational framework.

When our schools going to learn that if you try to silence parents in any way, sooner or later they will organize.  Teachers in traditional school districts already have the capability to organize through their unions.  Perhaps charter school teachers should as well to avoid these administrators who seem to think ruling with an iron fist is the right thing to do.

Is The DOE Turning A Blind Eye For Governor Markell’s Friends At Freire?

Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board of Education will make their final decision on Freire Charter School of Wilmington, along with three others, on Thursday at the State Board meeting.  But did the Charter School Accountability Committee look the other way for Freire?  It is well-known in many circles that Governor Jack Markell wanted Freire in Delaware.  But why this school?

In my FOIA request to Markell’s office for emails between the Governor and Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel fame, I got a very weak response.  However, certain things I read in there wound up giving strong hints of later stories.  Take, for example, this email from Herdman to Markell in February 2010 concerning Race To The Top.  Herdman was attempting to get Markell to meet with “top” policy leaders.  Included in this was one Bill Porter, a consultant for the Gates Foundation.  Yes, this is the same Bill Porter who was the former Head of School for Freire when he was ousted last month due to being arrested for assault and menacing charges concerning the March incident when he scuffled with some protesters outside the school.  (As well, this email also has Herdman wanting Jack to meet another “top” advisor, someone named Mark Murphy)

This is Delaware, so chances are the DOE can break the law and no one will care.  However, one of the Midtown Brandywine residents that is protesting the school opening in their neighborhood, had the following public comment at their public hearing the other night:

Below is my final Online Comment regarding Freire Charter School:
This has been a long and difficult seven-month struggle for me and many of my neighbors, in our efforts to be heard and responded to by CSAC and the State Department of Education.  I, and many others opposed to the location of Freire in our small neighborhood, have submitted many online and US mail comments; we have also spoken at several CSAC Public Hearings; so far, to no avail. 
It is my hope that CSAC, DOE, and the State Board of Education will pay careful attention to our neighborhood’s plea to revoke or delay Freire’s Charter due to non-compliance with the City of Wilmington’s Zoning Code, as well as with Charter School regulations. (Our issues re: the Zoning Code are being handled by our legal counsel, Richard Abbott, Esq.)
We have been requesting that the Department of Education require Freire to submit a Request for a Major Modification  to their Charter (BASED ON CHANGE OF LOCATION) since the end of last year.  This Request should be reviewed CSAC, DOE, and the State Board Of Education.  On December 28, 2014 a letter was sent to Secretary Mark Murphy by our Neighborhood Association President, Ben Cohen. That letter was never answered.  Nor were letters and requests  at CSAC Public Hearings by several neighbors.  
This past Monday, I again made this request at the CSAC Final Public Hearing.  I also submitted paper copies of all the oral testimony, online comments, and exhibits that our neighbors and local elected officials have provided to CSAC since February 2015.  In addition to a copy for CSAC, I submitted a hard copy for the State Board of Education.  That paper testimony fills a 2-inch loose leaf binder.
Here is a brief summary of why we are asking for this Major Modification Request:
Freire’s original Charter specified that they would be in a “Flagship” Building at 920 French Street, and everything from square footage to programs was written around that premise in their Charter application.  Apparently, a Public Hearing was held about that location, which is more than 8 blocks from our neighborhood, but we had never heard about it.  Then, Freire was rejected for that location, and chose our neighborhood.  We were never given the opportunity to attend a Public Hearing or object to the location before CSAC made a decision.
There is supposed to be Community Representation on the Charter School’s Board.  There are no members of this neighborhood on the Board.  There are only 5 Freire Board members, none of whom have attended any CSAC or School Board meetings, or responded to neighbors’ letters, until just this past Monday.  Freire refers to “community involvement,” but it has been non-existent.
On the Department of Education’s Website you will find the “Delaware DOE Charter School Modification Application” form.  That document clearly states and requires that Charters submit a Request for a Major Modification due to Change of Location.  This was actually required of the Design Lab Charter, but not of Freire.
Section H-2 of that form requests information about changes in siting; space availability; cost differences; safety; co-locating of programs, etc.  I can’t fully address all of those topics in detail here.  They should have been addressed in a Public Hearing re: the appropriate Major Modification Request that was never submitted by Freire.
Here are some of the changes that have resulted from the Change in Location: 
The school has a single small entrance on a narrow, one-way street.
Traffic is already congested, and child safety will be a concern.
There is no transportation plan; buses cannot fit down our small street.  Freire relies on DART dropping students off blocks away from the school.
There is insufficient parking, as required by City Code.
The school now has $2 million dollars in loans (Barclay’s Bank and McConnell/Johnson developers) and a $800,000 Line of Credit (Barclay’s Bank).
There is no longer a Gym as specified in the original application.
There is no longer a Physical Education program or teacher, till year #3.
There is no longer a cafeteria — but a lunch room and boxed lunches, instead.
There is a  business located on the 2nd floor (Freire will be on the 1st and 3rd floors).  They will be sharing an entrance, an elevator and a staircase.
There is no longer a Head of School; instead, there are two “Academic Heads,” each with only 4 years of teaching experience, and none in leading a school.
Once again, I urge CSAC, the Delaware Department of Education, and the State Board of Education to revoke or delay Freire’s Charter.
Sincerely,
Marilyn J. “Lyn”) Doto

Say, isn’t  physical education a mandatory course in Delaware schools?  If the State Board and Murphy actually don’t honor the state regulation in regards to charter modification and change of location, I hope these feisty residents sue the hell out of not only Freire, but the DOE and the State Board of Education.  What a crock!  And William Porter… a zero tolerance school and that… yet he still works for the organization.  Bill Gates would be so proud!