I'm sure many people attending last night's monthly meeting of the D.C. Public Charter School Board came to hear the discussion regarding the closing of Options Public Charter School. However, just that day the court appointed receiver for the school, Josh Kern, had received a letter from Judge Iscoe instructing him that he was not allowed to publically discuss details of the legal action surrounding the past executives of the school and its board chair. So Mr. Kern arrived lawyered up at the session and the PCSB members appeared annoyed but understanding that their questions could not be answered. The body had already decided that no action would be taken at this time because Mr. Kern had requested that he be given an opportunity to determine what was happening at the school.
Mr. Kern did reveal, however, that his sealed report regarding the school's operation would be delivered to the court on Monday, October 21st. He stated that it was then up to the judge in the case as to whether it would be made public.
For anyone keeping score, the Friendship Public Charter School renewal charter agreement was signed after many months of postponement. Friendship CEO and Chairman Donald Hense pointed out that the negotiation had taken a full year which is something most charter schools simply do not have the capacity to do. He asked for a streamlined process. In other news, Eagle Academy was denied an emergency enrollment increase after it had accepted over 50 students for this term above their allowable level.
The surprising activity yesterday revolved around the applications for new schools by experienced operators. The representatives of Harmony School of Excellence and Democracy Preparatory gave two of the most prepared and comprehensive presentations I believe I have seen in my years of observing this process. Another applicant, the Frederick Drew Gregory Academy, the school for students with behavioral problems, had apparently withdrawn its submission and will go through the regular charter school approval process in the spring.
Democracy Preparatory had brought about 30 of its students from New York to attend the meeting as part of a planned trip to Washington, D.C. 18 of them spoke at the hearing and I must say they were a uniformly articulate and extremely well behaved group of young people. This proposed Pre-Kindergarten three through fourth grade charter serving special education and English as a Second Language school should win approval without difficulty.
Harmony School of Excellence did not fare as well. All went perfectly through the initial presentation and the board questioning. Eleven people signed up to testify regarding the application and the first nine offered glowing support. But with the last two individuals came strange revelations. It turns out that Harmony was associated a few years ago in a long New York Times article with the Cosmos Foundation, a group of Turkish businessman and educators. According to the piece "Some of the schools’ operators and founders, and many of their suppliers, are followers of Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic Turkish preacher of a moderate brand of Islam whose devotees have built a worldwide religious, social and nationalistic movement in his name."
The most controversial part of this scenario is that the schools run by the Cosmos Foundation often do business with groups of people of Turkish descent. Some of these contracts have been called into question as to whether they are really the best deal for the schools and whether they are being awarded to support the Foundation.
Last February, Loudoun County denied a charter school application from people opponents said were associated with Mr. Gulen. However, the Washington Post's Michael Alison Chandler reported at the time that the charter was denied opening based upon the weakness of its application.
It appears to me that the PCSB will need more than 30 days to sort this whole thing out. Based upon the controversy regarding Options PCS the last thing our local movement needs is to approve a charter that has questionable contracting patterns regarding public money. This would be Harmony's first charter outside of the 25,000 students it teachers on 40 campuses in Texas. A few of the board members asked why Washington, D.C. would become their first location outside of the state. Perhaps the time for this charter in our neighborhood is not now.