COLUMBUS — Just weeks after documents surfaced showing Ohio’s top education officials covered up apparent charter school cheating, officials at the same school did not tell parents that their kids were caught having oral sex at a school function, a teacher told the Ohio State Board of Education.
The school in question is affiliated with Gulen movement, which operates charter schools in 24 states and recently had schools raided by the FBI.
The teacher, disgusted by the school’s handling of the incident, told the panel that a surveillance video captured the activity and showed other students standing by to watch. Although the students were suspended,parents were told the punishment stemmed from their kids leaving their assigned areas, with no mention of the sexual activity, teacher Kellie Kochensparger testified. Some of the students involved were reportedly as young as 6th grade.
“As a teacher and parent, when I questioned further, I was told that I ask too many questions and that the situation was ‘being handled’,” she said.
Other teachers told of test tampering, grade changing, attendance padding and students who mysteriously advanced to the next grade level even when they rarely showed up for class.
Written copies of testimony prepared for today’s hearing are available at the bottom of this release or at ProgressOhio’s website.
The information drew a strong rebuke from ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg. “First, we learned that Gov. Kasich’s education advisers helped cover up a cheating scandal at the school and today we learned the school covered up a sex scandal,’’ he said. “Too many kids are getting hurt because proper oversight of these schools does not exist.’’
Ms. Kochensparger was among a half dozen teachers who appeared to stun board members with detailed testimony about their days working for the Horizon Science Academy in Dayton, a charter school that markets itself as helping “students develop the skills in math, science and technology necessary to become bold inquirers, analytical thinkers and ethical leaders in the 21st century.’’
Yet teachers described a school with an abysmal learning environment that included a physics teacher who constantly showed Man Vs. Wild videos, a math teacher who slept in class, a Spanish teacher who spoke no Spanish, an IT department so inept that the school went months without working computers, and a Turkish teacher who called African-American students “monkeys” or “dogs.”School administrators knew of the problems but did little – if anything — to rectify these issues, the teachers said.
But stories of sexual misconduct were among the day’s most explosive.
Former teacher Richard Storrick testified about an in-classroom sex game: “More than once a male student put his hand on a girl’s knee and asked, ‘Are you nervous?’ If the girl said ‘no,’ the male student moved his hand up her thigh.’’
The school’s director knew about the incidents, did nothing and re-hired the teacher the following year, Mr. Storrick testified.
One student had submitted written testimoney. Nathaniel Cutts, said he complained to administrators about substandard teachers and the sex games. He identified Mr. Storrick as the only teacher who disallowed the “game.” When nothing changed, the student transferred to another school.
Ohio began sending public money to charters schools in 1999, initially spending $10.9 million annually. This year, Ohio will spent nearly $1 billion. The number of charter schools exploded as the number of employees in the state’s charter school oversight Ohio was cut by more than half.
The teacher testimony comes weeks after the FBI raided 19 Gulen-affiliated schools in Ohio and two other states. Gulen operates America’s largest chain of charter schools, and many of its operators and founders are followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric who preachers a more moderate brand of Islam. The nature of the FBI investigation has not been made public.
The testimony also follows former Gulen teacher Matthew Blair’s request that the state panel determine why apparent test tampering and other irregularities he personally witnessed were not properly investigated.
Mr. Blair kicked off the teacher testimony, reminding state board members his appearance marked his third attempt in years to get them to take his allegations seriously.
After his June 23 request for another investigation, state officials said they would take another look but characterized his information as “vague and several years old.”
“The information was not vague and when it was originally reported to the Ohio Department of Education and the school’s sponsoring agencies, it was not several years old,” he said.
Some of the teachers who joined Blair worked at the school as recently as last year and told of some of the same test-taking irregularities that he first reported years ago.
In written testimony, Melissa Randolph recalled witnessing apparent cheating nearly identical to what Mr. Blair reported: School officials filling in bubbles on standardized tests. When she asked what they were doing, she received the same explanation: They were simply going over them in pencil to make sure they were dark enough. Had the school’s testing protocols been followed, the tests would have been locked up and the officials would not have been able to touch them.
Ohio is home to 19 Gulen-affiliated charters in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Lorain, Springfield and Youngstown. There are also schools in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
PDF Copies of Written Testimonies