Explosive Memo from Dayton Charter Tells of School Violence, “Condoms” in hallways
COLUMBUS – A top official at the embattled Horizon Science Academy in Dayton wrote a 2014 memo describing “condoms in the hall,” sex in the in-school suspension room and teachers who “watch movies all the time.”
The newly disclosed memo, handed out at a school staff meeting earlier this year, reinforces explosive testimony Tuesday by a panel of teachers who used to work at the charter school, and it contradicts school supporters’ claims that the Academy is well run and professional.
In testimony before the State Board of Education, the panel of educators told of state test manipulation, unqualified Turkish teachers who did little more than show videos, teachers who imposed no class discipline and an environment that invited everything from in-class groping games to attendance padding.
Although the private entity that oversees the school noted that its critics are “former employees,” the two-page memo was written by the Academy’s current Dean of Students.
“These are public schools paid for with public money but we require private oversight,” said ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg. “No wonder there is no incentive to hold these schools accountable. There is only an incentive to cover-up what is really happening so the public money can continue to flow.”
Members of the state board of education said they were stunned by the teachers’ testimony and promised a swift and thorough investigation. But Rothenberg said he has two main problems with the state board’s approach:
- The man the board hired to oversee public schools – state Superintendent Richard Ross — is the same man who helped to cover up the teachers’ allegations in the past.
- The school’s sponsor – Buckeye Community Hope Foundation – continues to suggest the teacher complaints are from disgruntled former employees but the newly disclosed memo shows the school’s current Dean of Students acknowledged many of the same complaints. And Ohio law gives sponsors responsibility for making sure the schools are in compliance.
“We’ve had one cover-up already,” Rothenberg said. “We don’t need another.”
Teacher Matthew Blair said his appearance before the state education board marked his third attempt in several years to get someone to investigate the test tampering, racism, sexism and other serious allegations he witnessed while working for the school from 2001-2005.
After the Ohio Department of Education failed to respond to his phone calls, Mr. Blair wrote a 2013 blog post that eventually made its way to Dr. Ross, who is Gov. John Kasich’s top education adviser.
Rather than order a legitimate investigation, Dr. Ross sent a series of soft-ball questions to the school’s sponsor, the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation (BCHF). Sponsors are private groups that are legally responsible for making sure their schools comply.
After the teachers’ testimony, BCHF Division Director Peggy Young issued this statement:
“These schools have a history of outstanding academic student achievement and a solid compliance record. Our positive experience in sponsoring schools managed by Concept for many years is completely inconsistent with the allegations of several former employees.”
The new, memo, however comes from Horizon’s Dean of Students, James Jackson, said Michelle VanVleet, who worked at the school from 2010-2014.
“The memo was passed out to all of the teachers during a staff meeting,” she said. “Earlier, they had called all of the students to the cafeteria and asked about their behavior and their grades, then the teachers received the memo that explained the students’ concerns. The purpose was to tell the teachers that the students believe that the problems at the school were somehow the fault of the teachers. It was very belittling.”
In addition to Mr. Jackson, the school’s director, Mr. Mohammed Ali Kucuker, attended the staff meeting, she said. He has since been transferred to a Horizon school in Columbus.
Under the headline “Student Concerns: Why they think they are failing,” the memo lists the following:
- Teachers do not teach, watch movies all the time
- “Classes are like a playground”
- “Teachers are not coming to work”
The memo is telling for what it contains – and what it does not, Rothenberg said.
“About half of the space is devoted to the school’s fear of lawsuits,” he said. “There’s not much about how to improve the education the kids receive.”
The Dayton Horizon Science Academy is one of many run by Concept Schools, a charter school group affiliated with a Turkish religious figure named Fethullah Gulen. The teachers testifying said Turkish students frequently received less severe punishments than African-American students and that some Turkish teachers barely spoke English or had no classroom management skills.