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It's time to audit the PCSB over Options PCS

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Although the D.C. Public Charter School Board voted Monday night to begin the charter revocation process against Options the news about the school is not getting any better. The next day Ken Archer of Greater Greater Education revealed that a 2012 Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) report on Options PCS's compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), the law that mandates services to special education students, found the following:

•Of 66 students whose IEPs required services related to behavior, only 9 received at least the minimum services they were entitled to.
•Of 24 students whose IEPs required speech therapy, only 2 had this service delivered in full or more.
•In March 2010, OSSE randomly sampled IEPs of 4 students age 16 or older to see if they included actual goals for the students to achieve, as required by IDEA, and found that none did. OSSE examined sample IEPs 4 more times over the course of the following year and each time found that none included any goals.
•In the 2011-2012 school year, Options lost 3 claims brought by students against the school for failure to deliver special education services. However, none of the changes demanded by hearing officers, known as Hearing Officers Determinations (HODs), were implemented by OSSE even though the deadline for all of them had passed.

Apparently, the PCSB took no action based upon this report. Today, the Washington Post's Emma Brown details that J.C. Hayward, the Options board chair and WUSA channel 9 news anchor, had a 10 percent ownership interest in one of the for-profit companies formed by executives of the school during the time that she signed off on lucrative financial contracts between the firm and the charter. This information has not been brought forward by the charter board.

It gets worse. On the same day of the PCSB vote Ms. Brown and Ann Marimow detailed that there is now a Federal investigation in progress regarding fraudulent Medicaid billings regarding the school. The accusation is that Options paid students to ride the school's bus, transportation for which the government was billed. This act would constitute a bribe. The investigation also includes a suspicion that Options charged Medicaid for student support services that were never provided.

What was the PCSB doing regarding Options PCS while all of this was going on? The regulatory body did conduct a Qualitative Site Review on December 6th and 12th of 2012 with the final report issued just last March to Ms. Hayward. Here's a taste of the findings:

"Through classroom observations and focus group discussions, the QSR review team confirmed that the school has implemented programs and provided resources to support students struggling academically to meet school goals, and that student participation in these programs is moderate. Observations and focus groups revealed that Options PCS primarily uses an inclusion model to serve special education students. Observers saw that every classroom had a content teacher and a special education co-teacher who supports the needs of the special education students (and other students), and makes modifications to homework, quizzes, and other work to meet the needs of all learners.

The observers saw active co-teachers in most of the classrooms. One QSR team member observed the school’s use of “The Academy,” which serves a subset of Options’ students with more severe behavior problems in a separate building. The Academy consisted of self-contained classrooms with more behavior support personnel than the main building. According to school administrators, students in The Academy attend core subject classes in the morning and have intensive behavioral classes in the afternoon. The principal shared that each year, some students (usually between one and three students) transition back to the main building as a result of an improvement in their functioning and behavior. Teachers in the focus group reported that the school provides flexibility in responding to student behaviors and that special education and content teachers collaborate regularly and systematically."

This generally positive review was issued a short period before Options was given a clean financial report card by the CHARM analysis, a financial snapshot of charters completed by the PCSB, OSSE, and the city's CFO. It was around then that approximately $3 million in public money was being diverted from the school to two for-profit companies controlled by Option's management.

The charges against Options PCS, and the apparent ignorance of these problems by the PCSB, strike directly at the heart of the oversight integrity of a schools system now educating 44 percent of all public school students in the nation's capital. There must be immediate steps taken to determine whether anything like this has taken place or is occurring at another school. It is time for chairman Skip McKoy to order an immediate audit of the PCSB to determine what else needs to be done to prevent these issues from ever arising again in the future. The credibility of the governance of our local charter school movement is now on the line.

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