D.C. School Reform Act must be reformed

Note: As a public service, I plan to continue to write about school reform in the nation’s capital to give people a few minutes of reprieve from all of the depressing coronavirus news coverage.

Even though Monday evening’s monthly board meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board was not held in person with proceedings broadcast on the internet, you could clearly read the disappointment on the faces of the group’s members regarding the discussion around Achievement Prep PCS.

In February, Friendship PCS had been granted a charter amendment to takeover Achievement Prep’s Wahler Place Middle School after the school founded by Shantelle Wright admitted that it was not serving the educational needs of its fourth through eighth grade students. The plan was for Friendship to teach the current students at the Wahler campus the next school year and then transfer these pupils to an enlarged Southeast Academy Middle School 1.2 miles away which is currently under construction.

The discussion the other evening was around giving approval to Achievement Prep to reconfigure its grades, which would eventually include restarting its middle school program. But as reported here, on March 2nd the charter received a letter from Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn explaining that the plan was actually illegal because the new Friendship campus was not open to others in a fair and equal manner consistent with the My DC Lottery process. Achievement Prep did not want to be accused of doing anything to appear blocking access to its schools for low-income minority students and so the deal with Friendship was called off.

The whole affair left my mind reeling. Weren’t these two schools simply following the same arrangements that had led, for example, Friendship to takeover IDEAL Academy PCS and KIPP DC PCS to run Somerset PCS? Well it turns out that I was incorrect.

People in the movement more knowledgeable than I pointed out that the instances I illustrated above involved the transfer of assets. In other words, one charter was closing and another was assuming its operation. This was not the case with Achievement Prep. In this instance, Achievement Prep was continuing to run its school. It was simply attempting to move one campus under Friendship’s control.

Apparently, the D.C. School Reform Act permits one school to replace another when a charter is closing but there is no written power for the same procedure to be followed when it comes to a campus. This is wrong.

Now approximately 355 children need to find a school for next term after the lottery has closed. The fact that the Deputy Mayor sent his letter to Achievement Prep on the last day that families could enter their preferences in the lottery is just sad.

There is a simple solution to all of this turmoil. The School Reform Act needs to be amended to allow for the arrangements such as the one that Achievement Prep and Friendship had reached. If our focus is truly on the children and meeting their educational needs with the least amount of disruption for families, then we know the right thing to do.

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