D.C. charter board transparency has its limits

Last November I described troubling testimony at the monthly DC Public Charter School meeting regarding Ingenuity Prep PCS. I wrote:

“Two individuals, one a former vice-principal and the other a parent, with other former school leaders coming up to the testimony table in support, describe concerning activity at Ingenuity Prep PCS. They claim that under CEO Will Stoetzer student behavior is out of control. Descriptions of what is taking place include kids running around hallways, leaving the school building without permission, horseplay, and even exposing their genitals. The former vice-principal stated that students have been abusing staff through violent acts including stabbings. She asserted that she has heard children say that they want to kill themselves and die. The parent described teachers verbally abusing and bullying students. The cause of these problems, according to the former vice-principal, is inappropriate inclusion of special education children without proper teacher training and supervision. It is all difficult to believe and my hope is that the board will bring representatives of Ingenuity Prep to the December meeting to provide an explanation of these accusations.”

So what was the outcome of this complaint? You would not have any idea by sitting through the subsequent public meetings of the DC PCSB in December and January. Did this oversight body investigate the school? Was there any legitimacy to the charges of those who testified? The answers to these questions are affirmative, but to find them you need to do some detective work. The trail starts by going to the charter board’s website. Then you move to the Transparency Hub, followed by paging down to “Oversight testimony and responses to DC Council since 2013.” A button to the right takes you to “View Oversight Testimony and Responses.” Under Q &A click FY19 Performance Oversight Answers.” Next, select “Performance Oversight Questions.”

These are the questions asked by the D.C. Council’s Education Committee in preparation of its February 2020 oversight hearings. Buried on page 49 of 123 pages is this written exchange:

“Q 20. Provide an update on measures taken to address complaints shared at the November 2019 PCSB Board meeting regarding Ingenuity Prep, including:
a. documentation and the results of the original desk audit;
b. the results of the resulting special education audit; and
c. any conditions in place for the school.

In November 2019, DC PCSB received a series of community complaints regarding systemic concerns with student safety and special education programming at Ingenuity Prep PCS. Below is the timeline of events as it relates to the initial complaint, meetings with the school, site visits to the school, and the overall special education audit process.
11/5/2019: Unannounced Visit to Ingenuity Prep PCS
In response to the initial community complaint, DC PCSB staff conducted an immediate visit to the school.
11/20/2019: Staff-to-staff Meeting with DC PCSB and Ingenuity Prep PCS
DC PCSB held a staff-to-staff meeting with Ingenuity Prep PCS to discuss the complaints and the school’s response and potential turnaround efforts.
12/3/2019: Special Education Audit Begins
In response to the complaints alleging systematic issues with the school’s special education program, DC PCSB began a desk audit on Tuesday, 12/3/2019, in accordance with DC PCSB’s Special Education Audit Policy. According to the Policy, a potential trigger is a community complaint that “alleges a systemic issue with the denial of parental safeguards, provision of special education services, or concern for the safety of students with disabilities.” Consistent with the Policy, the school was required to provide data and supplemental documentation.
1/8/2020: Unannounced Visit to Ingenuity Prep DC
PCSB staff conducted a second unannounced visit to the school.
1/16/2020: DC PCSB concludes its audit and submits to the school its conclusions and recommendations

Audit Conclusions
Upon reviewing the documentation submitted through the special education audit and the information gathered during unannounced visits, DC PCSB concluded the following:
•through SY18-19 to SY19-20, students with disabilities at the school are retained at five times the rate as their general education peers;
•the school continues to have staffing challenges, resignations, and transitions;
•extensive training and oversight are needed in special education programming and compliance;
•while the school has developed an internal turnaround strategy, it has also struggled to implement elements of its turnaround (e.g., observing all teachers on a regular basis) and clearly measure success of the turnaround;
•while the school reports that seclusion is no longer in use, there is inconsistent evidence; and
•the school does not consistently follow its own policies regarding restraint and physical escort.

Audit Recommendations
Based on DC PCSB’s audit conclusions, DC PCSB recommended that the school take steps to re-evaluate and improve policies and practices regarding:
•special education student supports and contributing factors to grade retention;
•implementation of the school’s restorative practices; and
•seclusion, restraint, and physical escort practices and policies and notification to parents after every instance.

DC PCSB also recommends that the school take steps to increase its oversight and provide support to its staff in:
•special education compliance;
•teacher observations and coaching; and
•measurement of success on the school’s turnaround plan.

DC PCSB will follow up on the status of the school’s turnaround efforts in future communications, continue to closely monitor community complaints that may potentially come in regarding the school, and conduct follow up unannounced site visits.”

In summary, there were definitely serious issues identified by the PCSB regarding this school’s handling of special education students. While the board should be congratulated for including this information on its website, it is inappropriate that this type of follow-up is not shared in a more open fashion.

When I met recently with PCSB Chairman Rick Cruz for an interview I asked him about this safety incident and the one at Rocketship PCS. We discussed the possibility of something along the lines of a Safety Audit Report that would be included at the monthly meetings.

Based upon the details above, I think the time for such a report is clearly overdue.

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